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105 160 


PAUL MURRAY KENDALL was born in Philadelphia in 191 1. He 
graduated from the University of Virginia where he received 
both his MA and PhD. degrees. Professor Kendall, who 
has been both a Guggenheim and a Ford Fellow, is pres- 
ently teaching English literature at Ohio University in Athens, 
Ohio, He did his research for THE YORKIST AGE in Eng- 
land on a fellowship awarded by the John Simon Guggen- 
heim Memorial Foundation. Author of Richard the Third 
(1956) and Warwick the Kingmaker (1957), Professor 
Kendall has also contributed critical essays on Shakespeare 
to many scholarly journals. 


The Yorkist Age 


Anchor Books 

Doubleday & Company, Inc. 

Garden City, New York 


The Yorkist Age: Daily Life during the Wars of the Roses was 
originally published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., in 1962. 
The Anchor Books edition is published by arrangement with W. W. 
Norton & Company, Inc. 

Anchor Books edition: 1965 


John Calhoun Baker 




PROLOGUE: The Times 1 


1. The Mayor: At Home 31 

2. The Mayor: Abroad 66 

3. Rebel Against the Mayor 95 

4. The Lord Mayor of London 112 


5. The King and the Royal Household 137 

6. Lords and Gentry 170 

7. Churchmen and the Church 220 

8. Merchants, Pirates, Aliens and Lawyers 258 


9. The Fabric of Life 305 
10. The Marriage Hunt 338 

II. Wives 375 
12. Children 408 

EPILOGUE: The Wars of the Roses 437 


INDEX 489 



KING HENRY vi (1421-71; reigned 1422-61 and 1470-71) 

of the House of Lancaster, murdered in the Tower 
His wife, MARGARET OF ANJOU, daughter of 'Good King Rene*', 

King of Naples, of Jerusalem, of Hungary, and ruler of 

none of them; Duke of Anjou, Lorraine, and Bar; Count 

of Provence 
His son, EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES, slain at Tewkesbury, 

KING EDWARD iv (1442-83; reigned 1461-70 and 1471-83) of 

the House of York 

His father, RICHARD, DUKE OF YORK, killed at Wakefield, 1460 
His wife, ELIZABETH WOODVTLLE, a widow with two sons 

when she became queen 
His sons, EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES, later Edward V (1470- 

83?; reigned April 9-June 26, 1483), reputedly put to 

death by order of Richard HI; 
RICHARD, DUKE OF YORK, who disappeared under the same 

circumstances as did his brother 
His daughter, ELIZABETH, wife to HENRY vn 
His brothers, GEORGE, DUKE OF CLARENCE, executed 1478; 

RICHARD, DUKE OF GLOUCESTER, later Richard in (see 

His sisters, ELIZABETH, wife to John de la Pole, Duke of 

Suffolk; MARGARET, wife to Charles the Rash, Duke of 

His favourite mistress, JANE SHORE, wife to William Shore, 

mercer of London 


KENG RICHARD m (1452-85; reigned 1483-85), killed at Bos- 
worth Field 

His wife, ANNE, younger daughter of Richard Neville, Earl 
of Warwick, the Kingmaker 

His son, EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES, died 1484 

KING HENRY vn (1455-1509; reigned 1485-1509), descendant 
of an illegitimate son (later legitimated but barred from 
the royal succession) of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lan- 
caster; son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, an ille- 
gitimate (?) son of Owen Tudor, a Welsh adventurer, 
and Katherine of France, widow of Henry V 

His wife, ELIZABETH, daughter of Edward IV 

later Countess of Derby 

KING CHARLES vn OF FRANCE (reigned 1422-61), Joan of 
Arc's 'gentle dauphin* 

His son, KING LOUIS xi (reigned 1461-83), the universal 

PHILIP THE GOOD, DUKE OF BURGUNDY (died 1467), ruler of 
the Low Countries and the Burgundies 

fore Nancy, 1477 

His natural son, ANTOINE, the great Bastard of Burgundy 


maker', killed at Barnet, 1471 

His daughters, ISABEL, wife to George, Duke of Clarence; 
ANNE, wife to Prince Edward, son of Henry VI, and then 
to Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard m 

His brothers, GEORGE, BISHOP OF EXETER, later Archbishop of 
York, Chancellor of England, 1460-67; JOHN, Lord Mon- 
tagu, later Earl of Northumberland, and then Marquess 
Montagu, killed at Barnet, 1471; John's daughter, ANNE, 
third wife to Sir William Stonor 

JOHN MOWBRAY, DUKE OF NORFOLK, besieged the Fastens* 
castle of Caister, 1469, died, last of his line, 1476 


His wife, ELIZABETH TALBOT, a beautiful girl who dominated 
her husband and favoured young John Paston 

JOHN HOWARD, KNIGHT; then Lord Howard; later Howard, 
First Duke of Norfolk, killed at Bosworth Field, 1485, 
fighting for King Richard in 

garet of Anjou, murdered in the Channel, 1450 

His wife, ALICE CHAUCER, grand-daughter of Geoffrey Chaucer 

His son, JOHN DE LA POLE, Duke of Suffolk, a blustering lord 
who coveted Paston property 

John's wife, ELIZABETH, sister of Edward IV 

HENRY BEAUFORT, DUKE OF SOMERSET, favourite of Margaret 
of Anjou, killed at the battle of Hexham, 1464 

THOMAS GREY, MARQUESS DORSET, elder son by her first mar- 
riage to Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV 

JOHN DE VERB, EARL OF OXFORD, a Lancastrian whose father 
and elder brother were executed, 1462, by Edward IV; 
the 'good lord* of young John Paston 

THOMAS COURTENAY, EARL OF DEVON, a turbulent Lancastrian 
lord executed after the battle of Towton, 1461 


Fleet with John Paston; betrayer of Richard ffl at Bos- 
worth Field; murdered 1489 

His son, HENRY ALGERNON PERCY, Earl of Northumberland, 
famous for his Household Regulations 

humanist; executed by Warwick, 1470 

ANTHONY WOODVILLE, LORD SCALES, later Earl Rivers, eldest 
brother of Edward IVs queen, jouster and humanist; ex- 
ecuted by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, 1483 

WILLIAM, LORD HASTINGS, Edward IVs Lord Chamberlain; 
one time 'good lord* to Sir John Paston; friend of Jane 
Shore; executed by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, 1483 



JOHN PASTON, ESQ., inheritor of the Fastolfe estates, died 


His grandfather, CLEMENT PASTON, yeoman, founder of the 
family fortunes 

His father, Justice WILLIAM PASTON 

His mother, AGNES PASTON (nee Berry), daughter of a Hert- 
fordshire knight 

His wife, MARGARET PASTON of Mauteby 

His sister, ELIZABETH PASTON, wife to Robert Poynings, 
sword-bearer to Jack Cade 

His eldest sons, SIR JOHN, died 1479, a bachelor; YOUNG JOHN, 
later knighted and made Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk; 
Young John's wife, MARGERY BREWS 

His daughter, MARGERY PASTON, wife to Richard Calle 

His chaplain, SIR JAMES GLOYS 

His bailiffs: RICHARD CALLE, steward and receiver, husband 
to Margery Paston despite the opposition of the family; 
JOHN PAMPYNG, beloved in vain by John Paston's daughter 
Anne; JOHN DAUBENEY, killed fighting for the Pastons in 
the siege of Caister Castle, 1469 


His father, THOMAS STONOR, died 1475 

His three wives: DAME ELIZABETH, widow and daughter of 
London merchants, friend of Thomas Betson, Merchant 
of the Staple; AGNES WYDESLADE, a West Country heiress; 
ANNE NEVILLE, daughter of John, Marquess Montagu, 
brother to Warwick the Kingmaker 

His adviser, THOMAS MULL, a friend of the family 


His bastard son, ROBIN 

SIR JOHN FASTOLFE, captain in the French wars, builder of 
Caister Castle 

SIR JOHN FORTESCUE, Chief Justice, K.B., an ardent Lan- 
castrian but later a member of Edward IVs council; fa- 
mous for his works on English law 

THOMAS DENYES, lawyer and Coroner of Norfolk, murdered 
in 1461, probably by the Parson of Snoring 

PETER MARMION, owner of the manor of Nursling, Hampshire, 
who one day found himself chained up in his own hall 
with a dog collar 


RICHARD PENONS, a Cornish gentleman, Justice of the Peace 
and notable pirate 


JOHN SHELLINGFORD, three times Mayor of Exeter and cham- 
pion of the city against the Bishop of Exeter 

WILLIAM CANYNGES, five times Mayor of Bristol, Merchant 

ROBERT STORMY, twice Mayor of Bristol, Merchant Ad- 

THOMAS WRANGWYSH, twice Mayor of York, Merchant Ad- 

SIR THOMAS COOK, Mayor of London, Mercer, despoiled by 
the Woodvilles 

BARTHOLOMEW READ, Mayor of London, Goldsmith, who 
reportedly drank a jewel worth 1,000 marks 

LAURENCE SAUNDERS, Dyer, rebel against the city government 
of Coventry 

HARRY BUTLER, Recorder of Coventry, foe to Laurence 

THOMAS BETSON, Merchant of the Staple, business partner of 
Sir William Stonor 

RICHARD CELY, Merchant of the Staple, owner of the manor 
of Bretts Place, Essex 


STEPHEN FORSTER, Fishmonger of London 

His wife, AGNES, prison reformer 


JOHN STAFFORD, Archbishop of Canterbury and Chancellor, 

friend of John Shillingf ord 
GEORGE NEVILLE, Archbishop of York and Chancellor, brother 

of Warwick the Kingmaker 

EDMUND LACY, Bishop of Exeter, foe of John Shillingford 
MARGARET WAVERE, hysterical Prioress of Catesby 
JOHN SWYFT, the good Abbot of Beauchief 
SIR JAMES GLOYS, chaplain to the Paston family 



JOHN BOON, international adventurer, spy for Warwick the 
Kingmaker, later in the service of King Louis XI 

JACK CADE, calling himself Mortimer, The Great Captain of 
Kent*, killed shortly after the failure of his Rising of 1450 

WILLIAM CARNSYOWE, The Great Errant Captain of Cornwall* 

JOHN GOOS, heretic, burned 

RICHARD HEYRON, lawyer, international promoter who em- 
broiled the Duke of Burgundy, the King of France, the 
King of England, the Emperor and the Pope in his schemes 

MARGERY KEMPE, the sobbing mystic of Lynn, dictated the 
first true autobiography written in English 

WILLIAM WORCESTER, secretary to Six John Fastolfe, book- 
lover and annalist 




A BOHEMIAN lord and his retinue visited the England of Ed- 
ward IV in the early spring of 1466. Crossing the Channel 
from Calais, they had such a stormy voyage that they lay in 
the ship as though they were dead'. They managed to revive 
sufficiently, however, to admire the White Cliffs and mighty 
Dover Castle, which, they were later told, had been built by 
evil spirits. Finally their vessel slipped into Sandwich har- 
bour, and here the landbound Bohemians beheld another re- 
markable sight, a detachment of the English fleet riding at 
anchor- Like most visitors arriving at a Kentish port, they 
proceeded to London by way of Canterbury. They thought 
that the cathedral could hardly be rivalled in Christendom, 
an opinion 'on which all travellers agree*. 

To the Bohemians and other visitors, England lay on the 
perimeter of the world, edged by the ocean that stretched 
westward no man knew whither for Ireland was often hazily 
located by foreigners as somewhere between Land's End and 
Spain. A Milanese ambassador considered even Flanders so 
remote that he complained to his master at being 'planted 
here on the extreme shore of the earth's orb'. 

Yet travellers coming to England during the Wars of the 
Roses were, almost all of them, surprised and charmed by 
what they found. When the Bohemians arrived the first for- 
eigners to leave a record of their impressions in this period 
Edward IV had been wearing for five years the crown he 
had won after packed vicissitudes and victories. There was 
more fighting to come. Yet the Bohemians saw, or at least 
mentioned, no signs of a war-torn country; they heard, ap- 
parently, no laments for myriad lives lost in civil strife. What 
struck them most was the riches and fertility of the island: 
anticipating Shakespeare, they called it 'a little sea-girt garden*. 


They saw, it is true, only the southern parts; and the coun- 
tryside of England showed sharp regional contrasts. North 
of Trent and to the West, in the Marches of Wales, stretched 
hills, forests, heath, broken in the valleys by patches of farm- 
ing unchanged for centuries. Village and manor house lay in 
the midst of two or three huge fields, one remaining fallow, 
which were subdivided by grass balks into the open strips 
of lord's demesne and peasant holdings. On hilly waste grazed 
thousands of sheep, many of them owned by Cistercian mon- 
asteries. The North and the Welsh Marches, poor in goods 
and rich in fighting men, continued to nurse feudal ideas and 
loyalties and feuds; they provided many of the armed bands 
that bellicose lords brought to the battlefields of the Roses. 
Bondmen laboured on the lord's land and paid servile dues 
in the lord's court. Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland 
were dominated by massive castles and abbeys, planted upon 
moors that seemed to be rounded by the stamp of Roman 
legions and Celtic kings. On the borders, sewn with fortresses, 
Scots and English raiders were always burning villages and 
stealing cattle. A communication from King Henry VI to the 
Pope described the See of Hereford in the Welsh Marches- 
tamer than Northumberland as 'situated on the confines of 
England and among a ferocious and uncivilized people'. 

Down in Kent, on the other hand, the countryside was 
mostly enclosed into plots of arable and pasture by neat 
hedges and ditches. Riding up the Dover Road, travellers 
saw apple orchards, 'cherry gardens of the besf , plum and 
pear and chestnut trees, fat cattle, and poultry. This intensive 
agriculture was carried on by small yeomen farmers, for the 
county enjoyed a special form of inheritance-by-equal-shares 
called gavelkind. There was no villeinage in Kent: birth in 
the county was sufficient proof that a man was of free con- 
dition. The harbours swarmed with traders, fishermen, and 
mariners. In the forest of the weald, now somewhat thinned, 
wood provided fuel for iron and glass works. Kent was fa- 
mous for its heavy cloth-a single piece, some thirty yards 
long, weighed more than sixty pounds-and for its oysters and 
its ale. Beer supposedly came into England with the Refor- 
mation, but it was already being brewed in Kent, though 


the hops had to be imported. Situated on the route from 
London to the Continent, Kentishmen were an efficient and 
progressive race, proud of their independence of mind and 
quick to show it 

The manorial tradition of tilling open fields was to be 
found not only in the North and West but in the Midlands 
and, here and there, throughout the rest of England; but East 
Anglia and the southern counties, Cornwall, the Thames 
and Severn valleys, offered, like Kent, panoramas of en- 
closed holdings. The Bohemians, riding from London through 
Windsor and Reading to Salisbury, reported the land so 
tightly hedged and ditched wood, arable, pasturethat travel- 
lers afoot or on horseback could not cut across fields but 
had to keep strictly to the highways. Everywhere the visitors 
saw vast flocks of sheep. 

Yet in most parts of the country, towns and cultivated 
areas were still scattered among sweeps of forest and fen and 
waste. Thougfh beginning to shrink, forests like Dean and 
Rockingham and Knaresborough covered hundreds of square 
miles. Rivers, drawn far larger than roads on mediaeval 
maps, offered serious barriers to communication, but were 
much used for the transport of freight and passengers. In 
the Fen district, towns like Croyland stood as islands above 
watery marshes. Once off a main highway, strangers to a 
region often had to hire guides in order to reach then: desti- 

Ourselves travellers from the twentieth century, we can 
come a little closer to this England of the War of the Roses 
by seeing through the eyes of contemporary travellers. 
The Bohemians of 1466; Dominic Mancini, who described 
Richard of Gloucester's usurpation of the throne; Nicolas 
von Popplau, who met King Richard the following year 
(1484); a Venetian diplomat who set down his impressions 
(the well known Italian Relation) at the end of the century, 
and sundry Italian merchants looked through the aperture of 
then: own customs and prejudices, but their dominant im- 
pressions show a surprising agreement. 

They were struck by the lack of wolves in England, by the 
quantities of cattle, by the handsome parks, royal and noble, 


abounding in fallow deer and other game. Polydore Vergil, 
Henry VITs historian, singled out 'delectable valleys', the 
abundance of fish and fowl, and declared that the beef is 
peerless, especially being a few days powdered with salt*. 
The Venetian summed up the country as 'all diversified by 
pleasant, undulating hills and beautiful valleys; nothing to 
be seen but agreeable woods or extensive meadows or lands 
in cultivation; and the greatest plenty of water springing ev- 
erywhere*. He was surprised at the paucity of growing grain, 
but this negligence is atoned for by an immense profusion 
of every edible animal . . . above all, an enormous number 
of sheep. . . . Common fowls, pea-fowls, partridges, pheas- 
ants, and other small birds abound here above measure, and 
it is truly a beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand 
tame swans upon the river Thames. . . .* Noting the fertility 
of the soil, the mining of tin, and above all the production 
of wool, he concluded that the riches of England are greater 
than those of any other country in Europe. . . . Every one 
who makes a tour in the island will soon become aware of 
this great wealth . . . for there is no small innkeeper, how- 
ever poor and humble he may be, who does not serve his 
table with silver dishes and drinking cups. . . .' This obser- 
vation was made only a dozen years after the last battle of 
the Roses (Stoke, 1487). 

Like other travellers, the Venetian was also struck, how- 
ever, by the emptiness of the countryside. The population 
of this island does not appear to me to bear any propor- 
tion to her fertility and riches.' He himself had ridden from 
London only as far as Oxford but upon inquiring of those 
who knew the North, "was told that it was the same case 
there*. Travellers must have seen an occasional abandoned 
village and tracts of land once cultivated that had fallen 
back into waste; for the population of England had diminished. 
The land which supported some four or five million people 
in the thirteenth century now nurtured probably only the 
merest estimate is possibletwo and one-half or three mil- 
lions. This radical shrinkage, due mainly to the ravages of 
the Black Death during the reigns of Edward m and Richard 
n, had been accompanied by enormous suffering and social 


turmoil; but it had produced, by the time of the Wars of the 
Roses, a prosperous country of rising wages, steady or falling 
prices, low rents. 

The inhabitants of the realm of England impressed for- 
eigners as being so different from Europeans as to require 
considerable interpretation, sometimes laudatory but more 
often not. There was no doubt that the English were an entity, 
a nation; and the English themselves heartily agreed. They 
knew that no other land or folk could hold a candle to them. 
The English are great lovers of themselves,' our Venetian 
reported bluntly, 'and of everything belonging to them; they 
thinfr that there are no other men than themselves and no 
other world but England; and whenever they see a handsome 
foreigner, they say that he "looks like an Englishman", and 
that "it is a great pity that he should not be an Englishman"; 
and when they partake of any delicacies with a foreigner, 
they ask him, "whether such a thing is made in their coun- 
try?" ... It is not unamusing to hear the women and chil- 
dren of men forced to leave the kingdom lament . . , that 
"they had better have died than go out of the world", as if 
the Italian adds scornfully 'England were the whole 
world.' The German knight, Popplau, fifteen years before, 
used almost the same language: the English thinfr they are 
the wisest people on earth and that the world does not exist 
apart from England'. 

Perhaps this aggressive self-love sprang in part from a deep- 
grained conservatism, jarring to the more flexible Italians; 
If the long should propose to change any old established 
rule, it would seem to every Englishman as if his life were 
taken away from him. . . .' In fifteenth-century England the 
swan of enlightened patriotism had not yet spread its wings, 
but the cygnet of insularity and xenophobia was in lusty 
growth. The English had little use for foreigners, as the latter 
were only too well aware. Londoners could not believe that 
the long lodes of the Bohemians grew from their skulls 
but insisted that they were glued on with bitumen, and 
whenever one of the party appeared, crowds stared rudely 
at him 'as if he had been some fabulous animal'. The Vene- 
tian declared emphatically that the English lumped all aliens 


together into a conniving lot who *never came into their is- 
land but to make themselves masters of it and to usurp their 

Most foreign visitors thought that the charms of the land 
far exceeded those of the people though it must be remem- 
bered that tourists in all ages are apt to be critical of the treat- 
ment they receive. The Bohemians praised the English as a 
musical nation, 'for never in any place have we heard such 
sweet and pleasant musicians as here'; and they were grateful 
for English hospitality, declaring that 'in no land have we 
been shown greater honour. . . .' Popplau and the Venetian 
also found the English quick to offer dinners and entertain- 
ments. And no foreigner failed to wax enthusiastic about 
the loveliness and most of them about the passionate natures 
of English women, 'the greatest beauties in the world, and 
as fair as alabaster'. But summary verdicts on the men are 
crashing. 'I have nothing more to record of the English*, 
wrote the journalist of the Bohemian party, 'except that they 
are, as it seems to me, so cunning and treacherous that a for- 
eigner cannot be sure of his life among them. . . .' Popplau 
found Englishmen choleric by nature and pitiless when roused 
to anger, an opinion which echoes Froissart's of a century 
before. The German knight admired King Richard, but Rich- 
ard's subjects 'surpassed the Poles in ostentation and pilfer- 
ing, the Hungarians in brutality, and the Lombards in deceit. 
. . . The avarice of the people made everything hi England 
dear', Foreigners were a little afraid, it appears, of this tough, 
outspoken race that quarrelled fiercely among themselves, had 
conquered half of France and crowned their boy-king at 
Paris, and knew that, one and all, they were a remarkable 

Native letters and documents, as well, testify to a darker 
side of English character during this period. Englishmen 
stood stiff upon what they regarded as their rights, reached 
for what was to be taken, and were often harsh and suspi- 
cious hi then* dealings. A middle class hi town and country 
were clawing upward into the social and economic sun; they 
had not yet quite perceived, some of them, that life need not 
be so hard and that a man could prosper without ruthlessness. 


Yet this grasping practicality was leavened by a rough- 
and-ready humour and the rudiments of a sporting instinct, 
qualities not easily recognized by foreigners. A puzzled Italian 
reported that the English 'have no idea of the point of hon- 
our. When they do fight it is from some caprice, and after 
exchanging two or three stabs with a knife, even when they 
wound each other, they will make peace instantly, and go 
away and drink together 5 . The Englishman of Edward IVs 
day also exhibited a sensibility and a capacity for simple 
delight as yet only haltingly articulate. He cultivated gar- 
dens and laid out parks. He enjoyed Hewers white and red 9 
and the green of fields, dogs and horses, the sea, the grace 
of swans, *and the young rabbits that in a sunny morning sit 
washing their faces'. The loveliness of spring shines in his 
songs and carols; his ballads are bright with the brave poign- 
ance of star-crossed love. Though he thought himself an 
unmoved, no-nonsense sort of fellow, he had a child's love of 
colourhi his dress, his house, his church, the court of his 
king. His fondness for pageantry popped out at funerals as 
well as weddings. Give H any excuse and he would have 
braying trumpets, torches, cloth of gold, singing, actors pos- 
turing on stages, banners, minstrelsy, and whatever else he 
could devise of 'gorgeous ceremony 9 . He had not yet found 
his full voice or mined his genius or harnessed his energies 
by his imagination. But he was vigorously alive, a lusty and 
complex fellow not too easily penetrated by foreigners. 

In the course of the fifteenth century this hardy race, har- 
assed by a government at once feeble and oppressive, seized 
weapons to uncrown a king, Henry VI, and set a new dynasty, 
the Yorkist, upon the throne. A decade later, they again took 
arms to decide that the line of York should keep what it had 
won. On the death of Edward IV, his brother Richard, Duke 
of Gloucester, usurped the throne and doomed Edward's 
sons, only to be overthrown two years later by an almost 
unknown Welshman named Henry Tudor, of indirect and 
flawed Lancastrian descent After assuming the crown (1485) 
Henry VII married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, de- 
feated a Yorkist invasion, mastered all challenges to his rule, 
and thus brought the Wars of the Roses to an end. 


Like the great Duke of Wellington, most of us began learn- 
ing about the fifteenth century at Shakespeare's knee; the les- 
son was flamboyant and administered at an impressionable 
age. Four plays, the tripartite Henry VI and Richard III, 
dramatize a sweep of history from the development of party 
strife and the breakdown of government in the reign of Henry 
VI to the Tudor's victory at Bosworth Field. These youthful 
dramas exuberantly chronicle quarrels, riots, plottings, battles, 
murders, a never-flagging tale of bloody action that projects 
the period 1422-1485 as full of sound and fury signifying 
except for a rousing evening hi the theatre nothing. Part of 
this effect derives from Shakespeare's sources: sixteenth-cen- 
tury historians painted highly coloured pictures of fifteenth- 
century civil strife hi order to emphasize the blessings of 
strong Tudor rule. But much of the hurly-burly arises simply 
from dramatic exigencies: the young Shakespeare, eager to 
command his audience, zealously crammed the most violent 
happenings of more than half a century into a dozen theatrical 
hours. As a result, the chief men of the period rush jerkily 
about like phantoms to be seen in early films; and the thirty 
years 1455-1485 show but tiny islands of peace amidst a sea 
of flailing weapons. 

England as a whole was undoubtedly more miserable dur- 
ing the last decade before the outbreak of large-scale fighting 
(battle of Northampton, 1460) than during the sporadic 
Vars'. Your average Englishman living through these times 
would probably have been amazed to learn from a subject 
of Queen Elizabeth the First that he had endured a genera- 
tion of horrors. 1 The Wars of the Roses were not, in our 
sense, wars at all, and there was only one rose, the White 
Rose^of York. The Red Rose was a Tudor, not a Lancastrian, 
cognizance; the term Wars of the Roses' was invented in the 
sixteenth century. Henry Tudor's triumph over Richard m 
at Bosworth Field does not even signal the most decisive date 
of^the period: it did not begin a new form of monarchy nor 
bring the Middle Ages to a close in a single spasm. 
The daily life described in these pages embraces a span 

the fifteenth-century nobility, the class which suffered by far 
the most heavfly, was, on the whole, safer than the wives of Henry VHI. 


of half a century, roughly from 1445 to 1487. The arrival in 
England, hi 1445, of Henry VTs beautiful and imperious 
French bride, Margaret of Anjou, crystallized the bitterness 
of factions, led to the loss of France, and provoked the for- 
mation of a party supporting Richard of York's demand for 
reform of the government. A cluster of battles fought in 
1460-1461 gamed the throne for York's eldest son Edward, 
crowned Edward IV. Except for Lancastrian outbreaks in the 
remote North and West, the realm quietly began pulling it- 
self together under Edward's leadership. In the period 1469- 
1471 the king fought another series of battles to crush the 
alliance of his former mentor, Warwick the Kingmaker, and 
the Lancastrians. The so-called Wars of the Roses then ended; 
the remaining dozen years of Edward's rule told a tale of 
growing prosperity and stability. The battles of Bosworth 
(1485) and Stoke (1487) scarcely troubled the realm at 
all; they were waged by the immediate adherents of the king 
and his sworn enemies. A picture of England during the 
Wars of the Roses' is, essentially, an account of daily life 
during the reign of Edward IV, and during that reign of 
more than two decades, warfare, or widespread disorder shook 
the realm for a space of perhaps eighteen months scattered 
over several years. 

The decisive date of this period, if we must have meaning- 
ful dates, is March 4, 1461. On that day Edward of York 
established a dynasty of politician-kings that lastedwith inter- 
ruptions-until 1688. When the kings ceased to be politicians 
they ceased to be kings, as Charles I and James n were rudely 

English kings before Edward had been politic canny in 
statecraft like Edward I, brilliant in administration like Henry 
n, or, like Edward HI in his earlier years, adroit at keeping 
the barons contented. But a politic king is not a politician- 
king. Mediaeval kings were not politicians because, in the 
first place, they did not have to be so: their reign did not 
depend so much upon their rule as Edward IVs did. Sec- 
ondly, the area of political manoeuvring was too narrow to 
represent the kind of activity which *politician* connotes. 
There will be no politician-king until there is a critical popu- 


lar will which must be courted and can be manipulated. 
King Edward IV possessed the talents of a politician, and 
the fifteenth century had developed in town and country a 
consequential 'middle class'. 2 London was the touchstone of 
Yorkist success. By and large, the capital and the adjacent 
parts of the realm that elevated Edward to the throne en- 
thusiastically supported the Tudors, made the Reformation, 
and backed Parliament and Cromwell against Charles I. 

The least-appreciated of English monarchs, Edward IV was 
Queen Elizabeth's great-grandfather in more than blood; it 
was he, not Henry VII, who revived the realm of England 
and set it moving towards the splendours of the sixteenth cen- 
tury. No king of that realm owned a more brilliant habit 
of victories coupled with a greater love of peace than Ed- 
ward IV; no king of England since the Conquest was so 
familiar with his subjects and beloved by them as he; and 
no king of England up to that time, save William I and 
Henry n, performed so seminal a labour in reinvigorating 
the institution of the monarchy. 

While Henry VH has been widely praised for squeezing 
his subjects by taxes and extortion (he ruled by his cashbox, 
Gairdner notes approvingly) and for being able to weather 
challenges to his throne that were sometimes merely the 
measure of his unpopularity Edward IV has been generally 
ignored, despite the fact that he restored to peace a realm 
wracked by a generation of turbulence, broke the power of 
Warwick the Kingmaker, an overmightier subject than ever 
Henry VQ had to face, and strengthened the realm and the 
monarchy by reforms and techniques usually labelled Tudor 

The scholars of one century produce the textbooks and 
popular histories of the next. Because Victorian writers felt 
obliged to endorse Henry VFs piety, to deplore the irregularity 
of Edward IVs home life, and to applaud Henry Tudor's 

*The term 'middle class* is of course anachronistic, particularly in 
its modern connotations. I use it for lack of a better, to identify in gen- 
eral the rising and expanding orders of yeomen, townsmen, professional 
men, squires and knights of recent vintage social orders now interpene- 
trating each other and becoming increasingly mobile. 


'rescuing' of England from Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses, 
King Edward and his subjects remain, in the popular imagi- 
nation, but shadow-shapes in a jejune entertainment. Who 
would suppose, from the textbooks, that when Henry VII 
died, Sir Thomas More was moved to write a poem celebrat- 
ing the end of a dark, oppressive reign; or that in comment- 
ing upon the life of Edward IV, Sir Thomas praised Mm 
as a great king? 

These years of the fifteenth century adhere into more than 
an arbitrary slice cut from the flux of time; they own an 
identity not simply dependent upon the duration of the strife 
of the Roses or the regnal years of Edward IV. Taken to- 
gether, the latter decades of Henry VI, the reigns of Edward 
IV and Richard in, and the first decade of Henry Vn re- 
veal a distinct style and tone of life, as distinct as any meta- 
phorical halting of the march of time can be. 

From that which was to follow, the period is clearly enough 
marked off in everybody's mind: though aware that mediae- 
val ideas and practices will linger, we readily sense the ac- 
celeration of change summed up in the great words Reforma- 
tion and Renaissance, in the 'absolutism* of Henry VHI, the 
lustiness of capitalism, the discovery that England's destiny 
lies upon the oceans. But from that which preceded, the 
period is much less clearly distinguished: the fifteenth cen- 
tury is often lumped with the Middle Ages, dismissed briefly 
as more of same but running down and rather dreary. Yet 
the age has no less discernible a beginning than an ending: it 
is separated from the Middle Ages by a series of shocks and 
dislocations occurring in the fourteenth century. 

Consider England in that typically mediaeval century, the 
thirteenth, the England of Henry m and Simon de Montfort 
and the building of Salisbury Cathedral. This realm knew 
itself to be part of something larger, Christendom, swayed 
by spiritual and profane ideas represented in Papacy and 
Empire (then locked in bitter struggle). Christendom was 
still engaged in a common enterprise, the Crusades; spoke 
and wrote a common language, Latin; and acknowledged the 
dominion of an ecclesiastical bureaucracy that monopolized 


the learning and abilities of the age. Papal legates, humbly 
welcomed by Henry HI, helped him to govern; the Pope chose 
the bishops who filled English Sees; and numerous French 
and Italian clerics held English benefices. 

Socially and politically England was tied to another entity, 
the realm of France. This second affinity was likewise ex- 
pressed by language, the French, the mother-tongue of most 
of the English upper class. Knightly society spoke French, 
read French romances, aspired to the ideals of French chiv- 
alry. Henry DDE could think of no better way to resolve a 
quarrel with his barons than to request the arbitration of the 
French King, Louis IX, 'St. Louis'. Lords often owned lands 
in France and might have been born there. Simon de Mont- 
fort, the younger son of a French baron, found himself com- 
pletely at home hi the baronial society and at the royal court 
of England. 

The towns, even London, counted for comparatively little 
in this rural England (though the London mob once pelted 
the queen with filth as she tried to shoot London Bridge). 
Feudalism, which took no account of and left no place for a 
middle class, still dominated in idea if it was decaying in 
practice; the countryside, much more heavily populated than 
it would be two centuries hence, was enjoying the ripe noon 
of the manorial system; though free peasants tilled plots 
here and there and servile dues were being commuted for 
money payments, villeinage was everywhere and the agri- 
cultural labour of villeins supported the picturesque inter- 
national society of knight and cleric. Fighting exercised and 
entertained the lordly class: disorders usually sprang from 
quarrels of lord and lord, or lord and vassal, or nobles and 
king. Parliament was still, mainly, the king's high court of 
lords spiritual and temporal; the occasional addition of Com- 
mons after Montforf s tune remained a novelty. 

The great upheavals of the fourteenth century profoundly 
shook this society, loosened its structure, powered the dynam- 
ics of change. The life of England emerged from these shocks 
into the fifteenth century so altered that it can no longer be 
called mediaeval. A severe agricultural depression, the rav- 
ages of the Black Death and social dislocations consequent 


upon them, the Peasants' Revolt, a long, wasting war with 
France, the withering of Papal prestige following upon the 
Great Schism and Lollard attacks upon the Church Worldly 
these forces and movements hastened the demise of feu- 
dalism, spurred an English sense of nationalism at the expense 
of Christendom, severed the social tie with France, loosened 
the bonds and jarred the certainties of mediaeval society. 

Edward IV, not the Pope, filled vacancies in English bish- 
oprics; and if Edward had been insane enough to submit his 
quarrel, with Warwick the Kingmaker, to the French King, 
Louis XI hated by all good Englishmen popular indignation 
would probably have toppled him from his throne. Serfdom 
still lingered, especially in the remoter parts, but it was already 
becoming a survival, an anachronism. A new social order 
had thrust itself up into the world between knight and peas- 
ant, the townsmen and yeomen-gentry on whom Edward IV 
and his successors grounded their powerful rule. Parliament, 
still the King's high court, now exhibited a Commons which 
had become the dominant element; and even if its members 
were not yet quite ready to test their power, they were in- 
deed beginning to understand that they represented all the 
commons of England. The blows of the fourteenth century 
upset the crude but rigorous balances of mediaeval society. 
Greater opportunities and differentiations of estate and in- 
equalities and variety of careers made life more challenging, 
more complex, more uncertain. Enterprising men of small 
means no longer needed to enter the Church though many 
continued to do so in order to rise in the world. 

Increasingly anti-clerical and bitterly anti-French, exuber- 
antly conscious of itself, Edward IVs England had become 
England. Until the end of Richard ITs reign the govern- 
ment, the courts, the towns, kept their records in French or 
Latin; lords and knights conducted their correspondence in 
French, when they corresponded at all. With amazing sud- 
denness, in the reigns of Henry IV and Henry V, 1399-1422, 
French well nigh disappeared and Latin was fading. By the 
middle years of Henry VI, documents of many kinds, the 
Rolls of Parliament, chronicles, letters were cast in English, 
homely and sometimes laboured but often wonderfully pun- 


gent, as when Margaret Paston hit off a man she did not like 
as 6 a flickering fellow and a busy*. 

Though most people wrote letters only when they had to, 
then* pens vigorously threaded the ramifications of domestic 
problems and the bitter-sweet web of human experience. Four 
great collections of family missives survive: the Paston Let- 
ters, written by members of a tough, intelligent Norfolk clan 
who hi less than three generations rose from the yeomanry 
into the higher gentry; the Stonor Letters, reflecting the well- 
to-do squirearchy, long settled on their land but not above 
making business alliances and trading in wool; the Plumpton 
Letters, which reveal the turbulent lives of a hard-handed, 
litigious Yorkshire knight and his kin, and the Cely Letters, 
a three-cornered correspondence carried on by a family of 
Merchant Staplers from Calais and London and their Essex 
manor. Then there are the Shillingford Letters, that hit off 
the personality and portray the political struggles of a 
doughty West Country mayor hi the most embattled moments 
of his life. Hundreds of other voices from this world have 
also been preserved letters of kings and commoners, reports 
of frivolous goings-on in nunneries, chancery petitions and 
town records unfolding tales of suffering and knavery and 
valour and love and death. Nothing like these riches of self- 
relevation exist from the mediaeval past. 

The tradition of Latin historical writing had well nigh 
ceased by the time Edward IV came to the throne, but mu- 
nicipal chronicles, artless though they be, and propaganda 
narratives were lighting the lamps of English prose: town 
clerks here and there were translating old documents, Latin 
or French, into the vernacular as well as creating fuller and 
more systematic records of then* own day; morality plays 
and interludes satirized contemporary manners in the racy 
language of the market-place; and Sir Thomas More, who 
had grown to precocious boyhood before Edward IVs death, 
would soon produce in his exuberant history of Richard EH 
the first of modem biographies. The century did not write 
the Canterbury Tales, but it printed them, and produced a 
reading public for them. The Englishness of England had 


In looking at the past, we are easily bemused by the intri- 
cate interplay of likenesses and differences; aiming for the 
special tone and style of an age, we are more likely to over- 
shoot the mark than to fall short. To our time-charmed eyes, 
differences project so picturesquely or repellently or seem so 
alien that they startle us from feeling the deep ties of com- 
mon experience that bind us to those who have gone before. 
We tend, too, to forget our own ills in viewing those of the 
past. Historians write of the 'disorders* of the fifteenth cen- 
tury as if they themselves lived in a disorderless society which 
is the norm of human behaviour; the term disorder, danger- 
ously relative, thus floats in space without a horizon of refer- 
ence to give it meaning. Fifteenth-century offences against 
human dignity and life and property sometimes took forms 
different from such present-day offences and so look dark in 
our imaginations. This sense of difference inclines us to find 
the life of former times more dangerous than our own- 
ironically enough. In the bad moments of the Wars of the 
Roses, 'evil fellowships' occasionally broke into men's houses, 
laid ambushes on the highway for enemies, seized manors 
on fraudulent claims. We exaggerate the amplitude and effect 
of this marauding because in our own more tightly organized 
society criminal impulses and lawless passions find another 

We think the roads of fifteenth-century England unsafe 
indeed, ignoring the little hells of broken glass and blood and 
sheared flesh that strew our own roads. Then, as now, most 
men completed their journeys without incident. John Shilling- 
ford, Mayor of Exeter in the late 1440's, thought no more 
of making several trips a year to London than do his present- 
day successors. 

Though modes of thought, attitudes, styles of living, 
and what-there-is-to-be-talked-about have changed, *the olde 
daunce' of marrying and rearing children and losing in death 
and hoping for tomorrow and trying to get ahead and envy- 
ing the neighbours and enjoying the evening air and laughing 
with friends, the small pains and pleasures, the *buzz and 
hum' of daily life, went on during the Wars of the Roses 
much as it goes on today. 


When Margaret Paston learned that her younger sons were 
going to accompany her eldest, Sir John, on Edward IVs 
invasion of France (1475), she wrote anxiously to him, Tor 
God's love, and [if] your brothers go over the sea, advise 
them as ye think best for then- safeguard. For some of them 
be but young soldiers, and wot full little what it meaneth to 
be a soldier, nor for to endure to do as a soldier should do. 
God save you all and send me good tidings of you all.' Sir 
John Paston, visiting Bruges some time after he and his sec- 
ond brother had enjoyed a sojourn there, reported to the 
younger John, *Rabekyn recommends her to you; she hath 
been very sick, but it hath done her good, for she is fairer 
and slenderer than she was, and she could make me no cheer 
but always my sauce was "How fareth Master John, your 
brother?" wherewith I was wroth, and spake a jealous word 
or two, disdaining that she should care so much for you, 
when that I was present* 

Even hi the midst of troubles that seem remote to us, the 
common chords of living sound across the ages. Some 
months after an armed fellowship of the Lord Molynes had 
forcibly taken possession of the Paston manor of Gresham, 
Margaret Paston began assembling weapons and men to 
counter-attack. She sent hasty word to her 'right worshipful 
husband' to bring cross-bows and quarrels, pole-axes, armour; 
* then, after analysing the defences of the enemy, she went 
right on with a request for '1 Ib. of almonds and 1 Ib. of 
sugar 9 and cloth to make your child's gowns , . . and a 
hood for me of 4s. a yard. . . .' 

On the other hand, apparent likenesses sometimes turn 
out to be not so like, after all, for language is slippery and 
meanings shift from age to age. Words like 'Parliament', 
'mercy', 'freedom*, treason', 'good government', fair prices', 
meant rather different things, as we shall see, from what they 
mean today. 

The values of life, in the fifteenth century, were still em- 
blemized rather than analysed. The Church had saturated 
men's minds with concrete images of the extra-mundane 
world and taught men to project, in daily life, attitudes and 
claims by an elaborate symbolism. Indeed, the pompous cere- 


monies of the Church had come to be used in this age to 
symbolize the dignity of earthly institutions like gilds and 
municipal governments. Banquets were brought to an end 
by the serving of 'sotelties' (subtleties), sugar-and-pastry con- 
fections moulded into a tableau of St George slaying the 
Dragon or the Trinity surrounded by saints or the Virgin 
and Child. That hungry fingers would soon leave these sotelties 
a sticky ruin did not call into question the appropriateness 
of the imagery. On certain subjects, men of the time shaped 
their thinking into parallel categories sealed off from one 

The urge to emblemize produced the concept of the 'ap- 
propriate punishment*. Transported back to the London of 
November 12, 1478, we would see one William Campion 
taken from Bread Street prison and made to mount a horse. 
A Vessel like unto a conduit full of water' was set upon his 
head; 'the same water (ran) by small pipes out of the same 
vessel' and gave Campion a continuous wetting as he was led 
through London streets, doubtless followed by a jeering 
crowd. 'And when the water is wasted, new water is ... put 
in the said vessel again.* Thus was Campion punished for 
having unlawfully tapped conduit pipes in order to bring 
water secretly into his own house and the houses of some of 
his neighbours. 

Though the middle classes in town and country were 
moulding their lives by manners and aspirations and a vigor- 
ous empiricism of which we are the heirs, there still survived 
at the fringes of life grotesque, sometimes savage, usages of 
an earlier day. 

Down in Winchester a condemned thief who had prolonged 
his life by accusing many men falsely was at last 'appealed* 
by an honest tailor. The men were clad in white sheepskins 
from head to foot, given each an ash club with an iron point, 
and set to fighting in the most sorry and wretched green that 
might be found about the town*, neither having had food or 
drink and *if they need any drink, they must take their own 
piss'. At the first blow their weapons broke. They fell on each 
other with nails and teeth. Flinging the tailor to the ground, 
the thief leaped on him and bit his privy parts. In an agonized 


convulsion, the tailor got to his knees, seized the thief s nose 
in his jaws, and gouged an eye with his thumb. The thief 
then confessed his lies and was hanged; the innocent tailor 
was given a pardon, became a hermit, and died shortly there- 

In crushing a Lancastrian army at Mortimer's Cross 
(February, 1461), young Edward-vot York (soon to be 
Edward IV) captured and condemned to death Owen Tudor, 
the glib adventurous Welsh gentleman who had won his way 
to the bed of Henry Vs widow, Katherine of France, and 
sired three sons by her (one of whom became the father of 
Henry VII) . Even when the scaffold was erected in the mar- 
ketplace at Hereford, the jaunty Owen hoped to circumvent 
death as he had circumvented so many other obstacles, 
*weening and trusting always', Gregory reports, that he 
should not be headed [beheaded] till he saw the axe and the 
block; and when he was in his doublet, he trusted on pardon 
and grace till the collar of his red velvet doublet was ripped 
off. Then he said, "That head shall lie on the stock that was 
wont to lie in Queen Katherine's lap" and put his heart and 
mind wholly unto God and full meekly took his death.' His 
head was 'set upon the highest grice of the market cross, 
and a mad woman kemped his hair and washed away the 
blood of his face, and she got candles and set about him 
burning, more than a hundred'. 

The world of the fifteenth century was both small and 

It was small because the earth stood at the heart of the uni- 
verse, and the hand of God lay close upon human life. The 
Cross was everywhere displayed, at the wayside shrine, in the 
marketplace, borne aloft in procession through the city streets. 
The Virgin, who had once been a woman, softened the terror 
of God; the saints, their tangible remains ever on view, were 
wiDing to work miracles in this world and put in a word for 
man at the Throne. Rituals, ceremonies, folk-tales, the blaze 
of images and wall-paintings and tableaux in stained glass 
helped to domesticate eternity. Heaven was hard to reach but 
not far away, and the reminders of heaven were everywhere. 

So too did reminders of darker regions lie all about. As the 


Church in this century began to lose touch with men's sense 
of awe, the mysterious unknown curled tightly about human 
life; hungering for spiritual tidings, folk hearkened to the 
voices of darkness. The uncertainties, the violent reversals of 
fortune generated by the Wars of the Roses likewise pushed 
men towards superstition. 

Pilgrims and chapmen and friars, vagabonds, royal mes- 
sengers, wandering minstrels, sped the report of marvel and 
portent from town to town. Chroniclers recorded wonders as 
matter-of-factly as they recorded political events. When con- 
flict threatened or conspiracy raised its head, bloody rains 
fell in various parts of the country to warn of upheavals. 
During the late 1450's, as York and Lancaster moved towards 
open warfare, a huge cock was seen in the waters near Wey- 
mouth *coming out of the sea, having a great crest upon his 
head and a great red beard and legs half a yard long. . . .' 
The learned John Warkworth, Master of St. Peter's College, 
Cambridge, zestfully reported of the uneasy year 1473, when 
Edward IVs brother George of Clarence was stirring trouble, 
that several magical wells signalled disaster by the abundance 
of their flow and *also this same year, there was a voice in 
the air, betwixt Leicester and Banbury . . . long time crying, 
"Bows! Bows!", which was heard of forty men; and some 
men say that he that cried so was a headless man'. 

The Croyland chronicler records an even more gruesome 
portent of the struggle between Edward IV and the Earl of 
Warwick: 'A certain woman in the county of Huntingdon, 
who was with child and near the time of her delivery, to her 
extreme horror felt the embryo in her womb weeping as it 
were and uttering a kind of sobbing noise. . . We may 
suppose that even the children unborn deplored our impend- 
ing calamities.' 

With superstition ran prophecy, mysteriously wise after the 
event and often pungently ironic. The English, Philippe de 
Commynes drily observes, are never unprovided with prophe- 
cies. When the Duke of Suffolk was murdered by the crew 
of a vessel called the Nicholas of the Tower, the tale imme- 
diately ran that the Duke had 'asked the name of the ship, 
and when he knew it, he remembered Stacy that said, if he 


might escape the danger of the Tower, he should be safe; and 
then his heart failed him. . . .' At the first battle of St. Albans 
(1455) the Duke of Somerset met his end beneath an inn- 
sign bearing the picture of a castle; and a report was soon 
current that the Duke had been told he should die under a 
castle. A little later the same year, John Gresham sent word 
to John Paston from London: 'Here be many marvelous tales 
of things that shall fall this next month, as it is said, for ... 
one Doctor Grene, a priest, hath calculated . . . that before 
St. Andrew's day next coming shall be the greatest battle 
that was since the battle of Shrewsbury . . . and there shall 
die seven lords, whereof three shall be bishops. ... I trust 
to God it shall not fall so.' 

Prophecy was often manipulated for political ends. A Nor- 
folk soothsayer named Hogan, in the nervous year of 1473, 
was sent under arrest to London 'for reporting of his old 
tales*. Sir John Paston wrote from the capital: 'Every man 
saith we shall have a do ere May pass. Hogan the Prophet 
is in the Tower; he would fain speak with the King but the 
King saith he shall not vaunt that ever he spoke with him.' 
Edward IV was well aware of the political dangers of proph- 
ecy. Some people believed that he condemned his brother 
George, Duke of Clarence, to death because of a prophecy 
which said that one whose name began with G would super- 
sede Edward's heirs though it seems likely that this prognosti- 
cation was not invented until Richard of Gloucester had 
assumed the throne. Following that event, says Mancini, the 
pat prophecy circulated that within a space of three months 
three kings would reign. In the uneasy times of Henry VTFs 
accession to power, it was rumoured that 'all manner of 
prophecies is made felony*. 

The Black Art, too, spread its raven wings over the realm. 
Witches were solemnly burned; 'nigromansers' went to the 
scaffold. Witchcraft was used, like prophecy, as a political 
weapon. The arrogant Eleanor Cobham, wife of the 'Good 
Duke' Humphrey of Gloucester, was condemned for traf- 
ficking in magic to practice upon the life of Henry VI 
Humphrey, his uncle, then being heir to the throne and, 
after doing public penance, was consigned to prison for the 


rest of her days. The Duchess' accomplices did not get off 
so lightly. Margery Jordan, the Witch of Eye, was burned 
at the stake; and Roger Bolingbroke, a clerk, after being ex- 
hibited on a scaffold beside St. Paul's, dressed in his conjur- 
ing gown and his evil instruments 'hanging about his neck*, 
was hanged, drawn, and quartered. 

The formidable and heartily disliked Dowager Duchess of 
Bedford, mother of Edward IVs queen, was popularly be- 
lieved to have procured the dazzling marriage of her daughter 
by putting a spell upon the king; and on one occasion she 
was formally accused of seeking the death of Warwick the 
Kingmaker, her family's enemy, by fashioning an image of 
*a man-of-arms . . . broken in the midst and made fast with 
a wire'. The feckless Duke of Clarence loosed tales of witch- 
craft against the queen and her relatives, and similar charges 
played an undetermined but probably potent role in Clarence's 
own downfall. The Tudor story that Richard of Gloucester 
had violently accused the queen and Jane Shore of withering 
his arm (unwithered) helped to discredit the king whom 
Henry VH had defeated in battle. 

Yet, if in many ways the world seemed small, it was also 
enormous. Groping along the axes of space and time, m3t> 
peered into murky vistas. Westward from English shores 
stretched the Atlantic Ocean . . . whither? Even if not un- 
known, spaces were often undefined or difficult to traverse; 
the interplay of communications, even within the range of 
comparatively few miles, was frequently untrustworthy. Meas- 
ured in time, the realm of England stretched across distances 
greater than the span of the United States. York was six or 
even seven days away from London: no two points on the 
globe connected by airline are that far apart today. Corn- 
wall, still speaking Cornish, lay farther from the capital 
than York; and even the ride from Norwich to London re- 
quired two-and-a-half or three days. Bad country roads, the 
necessity of finding fords across rivers or a way through 
marshes, travellers* lack of information about routes or dis- 
tances, further prolonged journeys. 

Time, too, often loomed uncharted and mysterious. Be- 
tween Adam and Eve and the present, the span of years 


glimmered uncertainly. Brutus, the supposed Trojan founder 
of England, and Charlemagne and King Arthur mistily inter- 
mingled. The past was vaguely felt to have been a happier 
age than the present, but when or why it ceased to be nobody 
knew. People referred to a previous 'time whereof no man's 
mind runneth' and let it go at that Many men did not know 
exactly how old they were; they did not know the date of the 
year or the regnal year of the king. They dated by saints' 
days, even by Sunday collects, as when Agnes Paston con- 
cluded a letter, Written at Paston, in haste, the Wednesday 
next after Deus qui errantibus'. 

Yet Englishmen of this age were beginning to demand more 
information about the world. Anxieties stirred by uncertain 
times, the growing hunger of literate and publicly active 
squires, merchants, lawyers for authentic or seemingly au- 
thentic news stimulated a more intense, more calculated po- 
litical propaganda than had hitherto been seen in England. 
The Yorkists had much the better of it; the Lancastrian 
lords of the West and North, the passionate and feudal- 
minded Margaret of Anjou, ignored the changing temper of 
the realm; while their adversaries, appealing to Londoners 
and townsmen and gentry of the more progressive regions 
in general, the South and East enjoyed the support of ballad- 
mongers and pamphleteers. 

In 1459-1460 a barrage of 'seditious bills' and jeering 
verses helped to bring down the crumbling Lancastrian gov- 
ernment. Risings and invasions were heralded by proclama- 
tions: Jack Cade issued a manifesto of grievances as he led 
his Kentishmen to Blackheath; Warwick the Kingmaker used 
proclamations to justify his cause when he attacked the Lan- 
castrians in 1460 and, ten years later, when he sought to 
dethrone Edward IV. 

Victories were publicized in 'official' accounts: after Ed- 
ward IV crushed the Warwick-inspired Lincolnshire rising of 
February-March, 1470, a narrative of the rebellion and the 
confession of the chief rebel, Sir Robert Welles, were dis- 
seminated through the realm; and the brilliant campaign of 
1471 by which Edward regained his throne was memorialized 
in the Historic of the Arrival! of Edward IV in England, 


which was translated into French and sent to Edward's Bur- 
gundian ally. Richard ffl, at the outbreak of Buckingham's 
rebellion and when Henry Tudor threatened invasion, issued 
pronouncements attacking the character of his enemies and 
bidding for his subjects' support. Shorter bills and schedules 
listed leaders killed in battle or traitors attainted in Parlia- 

Important news was also announced by word of mouth in 
market squares, sometimes in churches. On Easter Saturday, 
1461, Edward IVs Chancellor proclaimed at Paul's Cross 
the decisive victory at Towton of the Sunday before; nine 
years later, Edward's flight from England was likewise pub- 
lished there. 

Tokens' and 'credences' were widely used in order to au- 
thenticate tidings. Information about the period which we 
dearly lack fails us because it was transmitted only by word 
of mouth; all that survives is the letter of credence bidding 
the recipient put trust in what the bearer will say. Tokens 
were employed by kings and commoners alike. Professor 
Armstrong has counted at least a dozen certain references 
to tokens in the Paston letters and about half a dozen each 
in the Stonor and Plumpton letters. Early on Easter Sunday 
morning, 1471, when Edward IV was settling accounts with 
his erstwhile mentor Warwick the Kingmaker at Barnet, men 
came pelting into London crying that Edward and his brothers 
had been butchered in a Yorkist rout. A little later, the citizens 
finally learned who had conquered when a messenger galloped 
through the streets holding aloft one of the king's battle- 
gauntlets in token of victory. 

Queen Margaret, fleeing into Wales after the Yorkists had 
captured Henry VI at the battle of Northampton (July, 
1460), 'durst not abide in no place that was open, but in 
private. The cause was that counterfeit tokens were sent unto 
her. . . . For at the King's departing . . . toward the Field 
of Northampton, he ... commanded her that she should 
not come unto him till that he sent a special token unto her 
that no man knew but the king and she.' 

Foreign traders, English and alien, provided one of the 
best sources of news, as they had done for centuries; they 


maintained an informal network of speedy messengers and 
sure tidings, since political changes could profoundly affect 
their ventures. Though the Prior of St. John's, Sir John Wes- 
ton, sat on the King's council and tapped all official sources 
of information, he nonetheless was always pressing his 
friends the Cely family, Merchants of the Staple, to send 
him tidings; for the Staplers' town of Calais was one of the 
best listening-posts in Europe. London sent correspondents to 
both the Lancastrian and the Yorkist armies in 1471 in order 
to find out as speedily as possible which army was likely to 
arrive at its gates. Gentry coming up to London, besought by 
friends and kin in the country to keep them informed, spent 
much time gathering and sifting the reports current in the 

But there was never enough news, or sure enough news, 
to allay anxieties; tidings of high moment sometimes travelled 
very haphazardly; and successive tidings often differed wildly 
so that the truth could not be ascertained for days or weeks. 
Word of the capture of Henry VI in Lancashire (1465) was 
brought to Edward IV by a monk. Merest chance wafted the 
first news of the battle of Barnet across the Channel. A man 
who left London by boat the next day was taken at sea by 
the Easterlings, who landed him in Zealand. Somehow his 
knowledge of King Edward's triumph reached Edward's sis- 
ter Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, and she immediately 
sent to the Dowager Duchess the first written account of the 
battle to appear on the Continent. Early tidings were often 
false; bad news and good were likely to be exaggerated. A 
Milanese ambassador shrewdly discounted the over-optimistic 
reports, arriving after the battle of Towton, that Henry VI 
had been taken, observing, *Vain flowers always grow in good 
news'. The farther tidings had to travel, the likelier they were 
to prove untrustworthy. At the time Edward landed, a fugi- 
tive, hi the Duke of Burgundy's dominions (October, 1470), 
Duke Charles had received certain intelligence that he was 
dead; thirteen years later, a premature report of Edward's 
death which reached York was inscribed in the city records 
and never removed. The Milanese ambassador to the court 
of Louis XI of France wrote bitterly, at the time of Edward's 


campaign of 1471, We have such different reports that I 
cannot possibly find out the truth*. Edward had regained his 
kingdom before the end of the first week in May, but King 
Louis did not receive authentic word of this upset to his 
hopes until June 1. 

At times of greatest crisis, emissaries from both sides criss- 
crossed the country bearing commands to raise men and 
spreading conflicting reports. 'Now go messengers by "twyne'% 
contrary and contrary*, wrote a chronicler of the wild days 
of March, 1461. 8 At the outbreak of Buckingham's rebellion 
against Richard HI, in October 1483, a Northerner sent word 
that 'Messengers cometh daily both from the King's Grace 
and the Duke into this country'. 

Because, in this uncertain world, men's hunger for news 
could not be satisfied, a crop of writhing rumours snaked 
through all the realm to plague peoples' minds. Reports of 
flying tales' and of dire predictions that there will be *a 
work' or *a do' appear again and again in the Paston letters. 
For lack of knowledge, even the merest hearsay was sought; 
on one occasion the town of Beverley paid a labourer to walk 
to the Earl of Northumberland's castle at Leconfeld *to 
hear rumours'. 

Like prophecy and witchcraft, rumour was employed for 
political ends. Tlie Yorkists encouraged slanders on Margaret 
of Anjou's chastity and, in 1459-1460, stimulated reports of 
tyrannous exactions by the queen's government. Later, War- 
wick and then Clarence used rumour in trying to undermine 
King Edward's rule. During the reign of Richard HI, Tudor 
agents spread a fog of slanderous tales; and Henry Tudor 
himself was plagued by rumour during the campaign that 
led to the battle of Stoke (1487), for Yorkist sympathizers 
so successfully sowed false word of the king's defeat that con- 
tingents marching to join him hastily turned homeward. The 
Lancastrians and Edward IV and Richard HI and Henry VIE 
all issued fierce commands against telling of tales and tidings 
whereby the people might be stirred to commotions'. 

8 Queen Margaret's forces were retiring northward after just failing 
to take London, as the Yorkists, entering the capital, proclaimed Edward 
of York as King Edward IV. 


But beneath these jars and anxieties, currents of knowledge 
and perception flowed ever more strongly among a people 
who had not yet learned to bridle the range of human nature 
or distrust the mysteries of human existence. The men of the 
Yorkist Age conducted their lives, viewed human responsibil- 
ity, and laid themselves open to experience more carelessly 
and generously than we do. They had a grander vision of 
man's destiny but expected much less of him. We draw a 
modest, perhaps cynical, circle, but demand that each indi- 
vidual fill it; the subjects of Edward IV drew an enormous 
circle, and took it for granted that man would cut a puny 
figure therein. Human frailties, consequent on the fall of 
man, were reprehensible but inevitable and therefore could 
be condoned witness the casual acceptance of bastardy. 
Punishment had to be fierce and spectacular, for man, hard- 
ened in sin, needed vivid deterrents; yet rulers exercised 
mercies we find inexplicable because they are unrelated to 
the question of guilt or innocence. To the people of this time 
human mercy, like God's mercy, must be capricious, else 
how could it be mercy. Traitors today are processed by the 
machinery of law and condemned for faithlessness to a con- 
cept called the state. In the fifteenth century, treason was 
personal, the desertion of an oath made to a king. The traitor 
did not disappear into mechanized legal jaws, his fate on no 
man's hands. He confronted the judgment of the man he had 
wronged and migjht therefore have some hope of mercy. 
We shudder at the burnings and disembowellings of the age; 
yet Edward IV, not once but repeatedly, forgave treasons 
which would now be condignly punished. The century knew 
how softly sin and how easily error slid into a man's heart. 

As people of the Yorkist Age were simpler and looser in 
judgments of their fellows, so did they offer themselves more 
recklessly to the blasts of living. Exposing themselves raw to 
experience, they were more like amoebae than we, if you 
will, but then perhaps we are amoebae who under the pres- 
sure of neighbours, of the machine, of a depressed sense of 
possibility have put on overcoats and think we are overcoats. 
Fifteenth-century men had not learned that it is better to 
fit in than to feel. They were more irritable and excited and 


excitable than we; and they consumed spectacles of blood 
and terror and images of dissolution that we could hardly 
bear. Life was not only more terrible, more tautly stretched 
between violent contrasts of piety and cruelty, ostentation 
and nastiness, pleasure and pain, fairyland and hell, but it 
was suffered with exposed nerves and a desperate acquiescence 
in God's will. Today we confine ourselves to the middle 
strings and discreet horns of the human orchestra; during 
the Wars of the Roses men played the wild gamut of strains 
from piccolo to doublebass. They liked life gamy just as they 
enjoyed heavily seasoned food, not only because spices cov- 
ered the taste of decaying meat but because they stung a man 
into a heightened awareness of being alive. These people ex- 
hibit a more jagged range of emotions, quicker shifts of 
mood, a heartier and more immediate response to life than 
are to be observed today. By our standards, the subtlest are 
often obvious; the most foresighted, impulsive; the wariest, 
naive. For many of them there was no middle distance, no 
tomorrow. Only today and eternity. 

But among the pushing, literate, increasingly critical middle 
orders, tomorrow was appearing. That is how the century dif- 
fers from what has gone before, in a greater prudence, pre- 
cision, calculation, wariness; hi a dimmer sense of custom, a 
keener sense of consequences; in a stronger and more con- 
fident desire to manipulate rather than to accept the way of 
things. Queen Elizabeth I might have found Edward IV at- 
tractively intelligent but somewhat barbarous; Edward I 
would probably have considered him valiant but supersubtle. 
Men were beginning to order their lives more pragmatically, 
more exactly, than their fathers had done. The measurement 
of work by the diurnal hours, the keeping of records and 
annals, the leap ahead in communications powered by the 
printing press, all showed an age of accelerating change. 
Invented in' the fourteenth century, mechanical clocks now 
counted the division of the day in all towns and in the halls 
of the well-to-do; and in the operation of businesses and mu- 
nicipal governments, a keener sense of the virtues of punctual- 
ity signalled heightened standards of efficiency. Englishmen 


were beginning to grip the world in both bands rudely 
sometimes, as foreigners discovered, but zestfully. 

Tbe people of tbe Yorkist Age were aware too, as their 
forebears had not been, tbat life is various and plastic and 
mutable, that customs and values are susceptible to the trans- 
formations of time, and that their own lives in especial had 
broken from the scheme of the past: 

Men's works have often interchange: 

That now is nurture [good breeding] sometime had been 

strange . . . 

And after this shall things up rise 
That men set now but at little price, 

So conscious were they of changing perspectives and stand- 
ards that they sought to slow the pace by creating appear- 
ances of stability minutely specified household regulations 
that defied the uncertainty and flux of things, an elaborate 
system of courtesy, a devotion to tournaments and other 
archaic ceremonies, a clothing of old language for new ideas. 
Even as they strode vigorously to meet the future, the peo- 
ple of the age regarded, or considered it good form to regard, 
all 'newfangledness' with suspicion. Two of the Vices in 
the morality play, Mankind, probably composed during the 
last decade of Edward IVs reign, are called New-Gyse and 
Now-a-Days, and foul-mouthed, shiftless fellows they are. Yet 
though the Virtue, Mercy, warns mankind against them 

Nice in their array, in language they be large . . . 
They heard not a Mass this twelfthmonth, I dare well say- 
Mercy also takes care to qualify his condemnation: 

The good new guise now-a-days I will not disallow; 
I discommend the vicious guise. 

Despite the upheavals of the Wars of the Roses, the latter 
decades of the fifteenth century, lit by both a setting and a 
rising sun, form a span of diffused prosperity and vigorous 
growth between the dislocations of the late fourteenth century 
and the grim days of Tudor land-enclosure and Tudor de- 


basement of the coinage and widespread misery among the 
lower classes these decaying times of charity*, Stow called 
them. It may even be that we shall find in the reign of Edward 
IV the age mat subsequent centuries looked back to as Merrie 



AT six o'clock on a summer morning, church bells sounded 
the beginning of a town day. The doors of the Gildhall were 
thrown open. Preceded by the Serjeant-at-the-Mace bearing 
the gilded symbol of authority and by other officers, a cere- 
monious figure, respectfully saluted by early risers, made his 
way towards the church. Clad in scarlet and fur with a thick 
silver chain about Ms shoulders and a high furred hat on his 
head, he surveyed the awakening town with a ruler's eye. 
After he had lent his presence to the early Mass of market- 
day, his retinue reassembled about him, and he proceeded to 
the market-place to see that his constables were on the watch 
for fraudulent sellers of victuals*. Then, joined by other fig- 
ures hi scarlet cloaks, he returned to the Gildhall for a meeting 
of his council. In the person of the mayor, the town had once 
again asserted its dignity and recommenced its communal life. 

This mercer or draper or grocer, serving his one-year turn 
as chief magistrate, better represents the spirit of the age, in 
many ways, than a lord or even an ambitious squire like John 
Paston. The reign of Edward IV has some claim to be called 
the golden age of the mayor. 

Not until the fifteenth century did most of the chief towns, 
having won their struggles with local lords or ecclesiastics, 
secure from the king a charter of liberties including the right 
to organize themselves as counties. By the time of Edward IV 
they had won sufficient wealth and power to exert pressure 
upon the changing shape of English life; and, under the king, 
the mayor governed his municipality no less authoritatively 
and a great deal more tightly than the king governed the 


realm. Before the end of Henry VIIFs reign, on the other 
hand, towns were beginning to blend into the national scene, 
mayors were becoming absorbed into the royal mesh of ad- 
ministration, some municipalities were losing then: prosperity 
and population to the countryside, and the evergrowing capi- 
tal, London, was shouldering its rivals into the subordinate 
role of sleepy provincial centres. The latter years of the fif- 
teenth century struck, for towns, a moment of balance-within- 
change, when they had partially freed themselves from the 
forces of the past but had not yet begun to yield their indi- 
viduality and pride to the new forces of the Tudor age. 

London was far and away the largest city in the kingdom, 
three or four times as populous as any other, one of the great 
cities of Christendom. After London, the chief towns of Eng- 
land were widely scattered, each the focus of a broad tract 
of country. York, the second city with perhaps 15,000 in- 
habitants, was the Metropolis of the North. Her lovely white 
walls and battlemented gates enclosed a Minster completed in 
1472, some three score churches and religious foundations, 
and an industrial and trading depot which supplied the needs 
of the largest and one of the wildest parts of England. Down 
the river Ouse sailed barges laden with wool and cloth bound 
for the Low Countries; up the river came barges freighting 
wine, stockfish, spices, tapestries, woad, pitch. These imports 
along with the products of the looms and metal-working shops 
of the city were packed by horse across moors and dales to 
abbeys and castles and bristling border towns like Carlisle. 

Bristol, only a little smaller than York, could boast no Min- 
ster nor the historical tradition of the Eboracum of the Ro- 
mans; but it was more famous as a trading centre and 
a port, home of enterprising merchants, shipbuilders, and 
mariners. Bristol vaunted its 'double walls' of water and stone, 
its stone-bound quays, its cloth industry, its merchant fleet, a 
harbour sheltered from storms and pirates, and its opening 
upon the Atlantic. 

The Venetian diplomat of Henry VITs time observed that 
except for London, 'there are scarcely any towns of impor- 
tance in the kingdom save these two, Bristol and York'; but 
Norwich, though declining, and Coventry were probably not 


far behind York and Bristol in population. Norwich was then 
the greatest cloth town in England; the cloth woven in the 
villages of Norfolk had to meet the approval of the Norwich 
gilds. Coventry, magnificently walled and surrounded by a 
broad belt of common lands, was likewise a hive of weavers 
and dyers. Coventry blue thread was known abroad; her mer- 
chants freighted imports and exports on the Severn or to and 
from the Eastern ports; lords and gentry from all over Eng- 
land were happy to become members of the city's great re- 
ligious gilds. Next in size after these towns came Winchester 
and Exeter and Canterbury and Colchester, Lincoln, Notting- 
ham, Chester, Shrewsbury. Perhaps none of them had more 
than 5,000 people. 

Of the four chief cities, only Bristol faced an expanding 
future, thanks to Columbus and the Atlantic. By the middle 
of Henry VOTs reign, the weavers of Coventry were crying 
for work, for the clothiers, seeking streams for falling mills 
and freedom from municipal restrictions, had taken to the 
countryside. York was losing out to rising towns like Halifax, 
in industry, and to Hull, in foreign trade. With the decline in 
the popularity of worsteds, Norwich too declined, until grass 
was growing in the market-place. 1 

The smaller towns, like St. Albans, were rudely enclosed 
by a ditch-and-embankment and by wooden barriers that could 
be swung across the main entries to the market-place. AH the 
chief cities armoured themselves in stout walls and gates and 
towers. During this age of sporadic warfare, most towns kept 
their fortifications up to the mark; repairs and additions were 
financed from murage dues collected from each citizen; oc- 
casionally a gild, sometimes a wealthy merchant, undertook 
to re-edify a section of wall. The town armoury contained 
artillery as well as small arms; in troubled times, guns were 
hastily mounted on towers and emplacements above the gates. 

The girdle of their walls set cities off sharply from the rest 
of the realm, even though a ribbon of inns, hospitals and ab- 
beys often lined the approaches. The men of the age were 
well aware of this bold separation. Manuscript illustrations 

1 With the coming of alien weavers, Norwich, however, recovered a 
measure of prosperity in the latter years of the sixteenth century. 


show white towers and walls, with steeples and tiled roofs 
behind, rising dramatically from a pastoral foreground. Yet 
the walls enclosed stretches of field, greens, orchard closes of 
religious houses, garden plots; and most citizens owned a cow 
or two, some sheep, perhaps a pig, which were pastured on 
the common lands outside. Towns and townsmen of the York- 
ist Age were more distinctly set apart from the land and yet 
also closer to it than their modern counterparts. 

Near the gates of a town there frequently stood a hut with 
a bearded and verminous old fellow before it extending his 
alms bowl; this was the hermitage, a municipal institution: 
candidates applied to the mayor. The gate was guarded by 
sergeants, who sent sturdy beggars packing, examined the cre- 
dentials of messengers on sweating horses, sometimes exacted 
toll from countrymen bringing provisions to market, directed 
a leper, rattling his clapper, to the lazar house down the road. 

Once a traveller had passed the towered gates with their 
arrowslits and portcullis and machicolated battlements, he 
was plunged into a reeking, noisy, crowded world. In its tor- 
tuous alleyways and swarming narrow streets, the English 
town of this period probably resembled nothing today so much 
as a Levantine or other Mediterranean city, where life is lived 
out-of-doors, unself-consciously, and at high pitch, 

For his ideal city, Sir Thomas More provided streets only 
twenty feet wide; most town thoroughfares were probably 
narrower than this, with sudden widenings and turnings, the 
sky shut away by the upper storeys of gabled houses leaning 
ever nearer to each other. A 'channel* in the middle of the 
street or two smaller ones at the sides encouraged the rain 
to cleanse the public way, but the streets remained thick with 
every variety of filth, with rubbish swept from houses and 
with worse than rubbish sometimes dumped from upper win- 
dows* A dead animal might lie several days, before the con- 
stable of the ward got round to ordering somebody to remove 
it; even the dignitaries of London sometimes failed to set a 
good example: *John Derby, Alderman, for so much as he 
refused to carry away a dead dog lying at his door, and for 
unfitting language which he gave unto the mayor, he was by a 
Court of Aldermen deemed to a fine of 1, which he paid, 


every penny'. The wares of shopkeepers, piled around door- 
ways, and market stalls made the streets still narrower. A reck- 
less horseman or carter drove citizens to the walls. 

In the early morning, the 'Common Herd' escorted cattle 
out to pasture; boys collected swine and goats to feed in waste 
and wood; but there were always domestic animals 'going* in 
the streets. Ducks waddled in the water of the channels (for- 
bidden); pigs rooted at garbage piles (forbidden); goats nuz- 
zled at the food stalls (forbidden). 

The life of the town clotted most thickly in the market-place, 
around the principal church, at the GildhaU and these insti- 
tutions were usually close together. Between the rows of mar- 
ket stalls, buyers fingered wares and bargained; hawkers of- 
fered fruit or chestnuts or pins and girdles, weavers' wives 
displayed on their arms a pile of *dozens* (half-cloths twelve 
yards long). In the nave of the church a gild held a business 
meeting, while chantry chaplains sang for souls of the dead. 
Men bought and sold goods in the churchyard, dumped loads 
of rubbish there (forbidden) , stored a load of hay or wood or 
iron (forbidden) until a purchaser could be found. Citizens 
trooped into the Gildhall to attend the court of the mayor or 
pay a fine or to have their wool weighed, while young people, 
if the main hall was large enough, played a game of tennis 
(forbidden) . 

The air hung heavy with smells and sounds. Beneath the 
^boards' of butchers and fishmongers grew reeking piles of 
blood and bones and entrails. Horses, cattle added their steam- 
ing deposits to the muck of the streets. Down lanes hemmed 
by crowding tenements men scalded swine (forbidden within 
the city limits) , adding to the stench produced by the tanners 
and whittawyers workers in white leather and dyers. Over 
ditches and streams running through the town, latrines were 
sure to be projecting (forbidden). 

Sounds penetrated the town atmosphere as insistently as 
odours. Church bells were always going, saturating the ears. 
They sang and boomed above the arguments of the market, 
tiie shouts of small boys teasing a goose, laughter in the ale- 
houses, the mutter of the Mass wafted from church doors, 
clatter of hoofs on rough paving, a hue and cry after thieves. 


Bells sounded the hours of the day and the perambulations 
of the night watch; they summoned substantial citizens to a 
meeting of the Common Council, announced the opening of 
city court, signalled the tune of municipal elections. Bells rang 
for the feasts of the Church, for warnings of danger, for exer- 
cising the art of bell-ringing; and when discontents among the 
lower orders boiled up into riots, the wild tintinnabulations of 
the 'common bell' shouted their defiance of authority. But, 
most often, the bells rang in behalf of souls for funerals and 
the 'month's mind' and the *year's mind' or obit Since the 
custom among prosperous citizens of leaving money for bells 
to be rung on then: obits extended back tens of decades, this 
accumulation of piety kept the bells tossing all the hours of 
the day. Lesser notes blended into the din. The town crier 
rang bis bell in the square to herald the latest proclamation 
from the mayor, or the king. Beadles from the craft gflds and 
religious fraternities walked through the wards ringing bells 
to inform the brethren and sisters of a funeral or a meeting. 
A lord rode through the high street with jingling harness. On 
All Hallows' Eve (October 31) and on All Souls' Eve (No- 
vember 1) the bells tolled all night long; and every night, 
usually at nine P.M., the curfew bell sounded the closing of 
the city gates. 

As poignantly as sounds and smells struck the senses, the 
whole existence of the city thrust itself upon the gaze of the 
inhabitants. Greatness and misery, business, sport, punishment 
were exposed to public view. Artisans in their shops had to 
work in full sight and must not pursue their labours after 
dark. Crime sat, pelted with filth, in the stocks on the green. 
Neither riches nor poverty shrank from the light of day. The 
dignity of power, the dark mystery of death, the humility of 
indigence, the splendour of wealth, the horror of a felon's end 
were acted out as if life were a perpetual morality play (as 
people once knew that it was). The mayor, taking the sun in 
scarlet surrounded by his officers, looked only like himself, 
master of the city. A lousy beggar showed his sores as he ex- 
tended his alms bowL Whoredom was shamed in a striped 
hood. Lords or abbots riding through town had their lordly 
way cleared by liveried servants. When a well-to-do citizen 


died, many-faced poverty congregated about the door: the 
fortunate ones would receive a gown, a meal, and perhaps 2d. 
The funeral procession blazed in the streets with banners of 
chanting clergy, poor men bearing torches, children in black 
gowns. Yet, if wealth looked even wealthier, poverty humbler 
and power more awesome, the great and the mean alike 
shared the spectacle; everybody acted in the drama and every- 
body knew his part. 

The work day stretched long, but the panorama of street 
life offered plenty of entertainment. On a rude platform in 
the square, players of the town or of a parish, or a troupe 
from a neighbouring village, enacted the edifying drama of a 
saint's life, then pranced through a knockabout morality dom- 
inated by the bawdy-tongued Vice. Town minstrels, bright in 
livery and silver badges, played for civic processions, holidays, 
the arrival of a great lord, fairs and festivals. In the summer 
weather the minstrels of the King or of the Queen or of the 
Duke of Gloucester, making their seasonal tour, gave a con- 
cert on the green, complete with trained apes and marmosets 
to delight the vulgar; they could be sure of a fat tip from the 
city magistrates, perhaps a noble (6s 8d) or even as much as 
10s. On occasion the Trumpets' of the Duke of Clarence or 
the Earl of Essex went blaring through the streets followed by 
streams of children. Threadbare mountebanks with only their 
tricks to recommend them danced and sang and juggled and 
beat their tabors while a girl balanced herself on two swords 
thrust into the earth. 

On weekends and holidays wrestlers from neighbouring vil- 
lages competed on the green for a ram's head. Cock-fighting 
and bull-baiting provided the crowd with bloodier amusement. 
Butchers were strictly forbidden to slaughter bulls until they 
had been baited. Numerous towns had an official called the 
'Bull-ring Mayor 5 or the Warden of the Shambles* who made 
sure that all bulls ready for killing were first baited for the 
enjoyment of the citizenry. Archery continued to be a popular 
and patriotic sport, encouraged by Parliament and sometimes 
enforced by the mayor. The municipality maintained butts and 
pricks where citizens practiced the yeoman art 'Roving' was 
also very much in vogue. The Prior of Coventry complained 


bitterly that townsmen broke down his hedges and trampled 
his grain as they wandered on fine days, quivers on back, 
shooting at whatever targets took their eye. The Mayor replied 
stiffly that he was not responsible for damage done by indi- 
viduals and that, furthermore, many towns including London, 
permitted roving. Over in France a young nobleman, issuing 
from a house just as an archer let fly at the door, was skewered 
like a chicken. 

Men enjoyed a variety of other games as well, many of 
them frowned upon. Parliament, lamenting the decay of arch- 
ery (it was being lamented before Agincourt), issued stern 
prohibitions against football and bowling games and other 
unmannerly pastimes, as well as against all forms of gambling. 
But in every town in England men kicked footballs in streets 
and bowled on greens and rattled dice in alehouses. 

Punishments, too, were woven into the common experience 
of townsmen; for man was known to be sinful, the fabric of 
order was felt to be precarious, and only the strongest de- 
terrents, the most emblematic examples could preserve society 
from falling apart into rapine and anarchy. A traitor or felon 
was lashed, face up, to a Tiurdle' and dragged at a horse's tail 
through town to the scaffold. Attended until the last moment 
by a priest or friar who held a cross before his eyes, the 
victim mounted the platform to behold a mass of faces, made 
a brief speech of repentance or perhaps a passionate declara- 
tion of innocence, forgave the hangman, and took the noose. 
Hanged and then quickly cut down while still alive, he was 
castrated and disembowelled and might still linger in agony 
while his entrails were burnt before his face. 'Jesus, yet more 
trouble', moaned one sufferer as the hangman's knife drove 
into him. This gruesome death was a ritual: every act had a 
symbolic significance going far back in time. A crazy old 
woman who shrieked a reproach to the Boy-King Henry VI 
and had not the wits to answer her accusers was pressed to 
death for her failure to plead. Men, women, and children 
crowded to watch these executions, sometimes jeering, some- 
times in silence, sometimes with tears upon their faces. The 
gates of towns, the spikes on the towers of London Bridge 
sprouted a crop of heads, picked by kites and weathering. 


Sometimes the great ones of the world imitated the capri- 
cious mercy of God in dramatizing their clemency. In July of 
1447, five months after Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, had 
died, or been murdered, while in the custody of his bitter 
enemy, the Duke of Suffolk, five of his followers, including 
Humphrey's bastard son Arthur, were condemned to be 
hanged, drawn, and their bowels burnt before them, and then 
their heads to be smitten off, and then to be quartered, and 
every part to be sent unto divers places by assignment of the 
judges'. They were dragged from then: prison hi Southwark, 
across London Bridge, through Cheapside, and out Newgate 
to Tyburn. *And every man of them lay on hurdles in velvet 
doublets. And Arthur held a cross of gold between manacles. 
And all the time they prayed the people to pray for them as 
they were guiltless of any treason, which sight was full heavy 
to the commons.' Even the French ambassadors beholding the 
spectacle were moved. The men were hanged, but as they were 
strangling, the hangman suddenly cut them down. The Duke 
of Suffolk himself rode up to hand them pardons for their 
lives. 'And they came again through the city thanking God and 
the King of his grace.' 

Lesser punishments were often grotesque and humiliating, 
and here and there customs from a more brutal age survived, 
In the Cinque Ports a thief was forced to be his own gaoler: 
his ear was nailed to a post or a cartwheel and he was given 
a knife to cut himself loose. When, surrounded by curious 
eyes, he had nerved himself to the deed, he had to pay a fine 
and foreswear the town. Those who bribed jurors were forced 
to display their guilt by a whetstone hung about their necks. 
Cuck stools stood ready to bring shrews and scolds to their 
senses. The one on Chelmsford Green, Coventry, frequently 
needed repair. In Nottingham, where the term *scold* was de- 
fined to include men as well as women, the cuck stool was 
wheeled to the offender's door and then she (or he) was pa- 
raded to the four gates of the city. The standard punishment 
for fraud and other knavery was the stocks or the pfllory, 
where a hail of vegetables and jeers sharpened the punishment. 

City fathers tried to draw the line, however, at personal 
vengeance. The wife of Thomas Pynde, taverner of London, 


was defrauded by one Simon Ludbroke, who, committed to 
prison on October 27, was sentenced on December 13 to stand 
in the pillory for half an hour at the suggestion of Thomas 
Pynde, though Thomas was warned to leave punishment to 
the law. Nevertheless, as soon as Ludbroke was clapped in 
the pillory, Pynde removed the ladder leading to the platform 
and then he and his friends plastered the hapless Simon with 
rotten eggs: the constable on duty there consumed a whole 
hour finding another ladder. But Pynde was haled before the 
mayor and aldermen and promptly committed to prison. Two 
days later, he humbly admitted his errors and was fined the 
enormous sum of 20, of which 10 was remitted. 

Offences against morals were also vigorously aired. The 
Coventry Leet (court) condemned William Powet, capper, 
*and his paramour' to be 'carried and led through the town 
in a cart in example of punishment of sin*. A few years later, 
John Got was let off more lightly, perhaps because he was the 
town gaoler. He was warned in court that he would lose his 
position if he 'commits fornication, especially with Elizabeth, 
wife of Thomas White'. At York, prostitutes were required to 
avoid the town and dwell in the suburbs. Elizabeth Judela, 
convicted in London of being 'a common bawd', was led from 
prison to the pillory hi Cornhill with minstrelsey*, wearing c a 
ray [striped] hood on her head* and carrying a white rod in 
her hands. Dealers who tried to foist tainted victuals on the 
public had their stinking fish burnt before their noses or their 
fraudulent loaves loaded on their shoulders. In London a 
woman named Agnes Deyntee, who had sold 'corrupt and old 
butter, not wholesome for man's body', was condemned to 
stand beneath the pillory for half an hour with her dishes of 
rotten butter hanging about her neck and then to quit the city. 

For minor offences, punishment fell more heavily upon the 
humbler citizens than upon the merchant aristocracy. The lat- 
ter usually paid for their misdeeds by fines, whereas poor men 
cooled their heels for several days hi gaol. Incarceration was 
likewise more painful for the man who had no money in his 
purse, for prisoners were expected to pay for their board and 
lodging. Though towns attempted to enforce a tariff of maxi- 
mum prices a gaoler might charge for food, drink, and decent 


accommodation, ordinary citizens were sometimes miserably 
treated unless they had friends to help them. For a fee, a man 
was permitted to have his servant fetch his bed to the prison, 
and for another fee the gaolerforbidden, for good reason, to 
brew or sell ale would send out to the nearest tavern for 

Great prisoners of state like Henry Percy, whose Lancas- 
trian father, slain at Towton, had forfeited the earldom of 
Northumberland, fared well in the King's prison of The Fleet 
He was permitted four servants and an allowance of 26s 8d a 
week. When John Paston, who fell afoul of The Fleet for a 
few months, enjoyed a visit from his wife, Henry Percy and 
others made her such good cheer that the usually sober John 
was moved to write her a letter in verse. Humble men who 
languished in gaol were not forgotten, however. Wills of the 
time reveal that *relief of poor prisoners' was one of the most 
exemplary forms of charity by which a man might demon- 
strate to Heaven his good intentions. Philip Malpas, the most 
unpopular London alderman of the century, left the princely 
sum of -125 for this purpose, and all over England men 
bequeathed money, food, gowns to the inmates of prisons. At 
the bottom of fifteenth-century thinking there was always the 
realization that while laws must be rigorously enforced, jus- 
tice was a matter for Heaven. 

But everything was a matter for Heaven. To twentieth- 
century eyes, town life in the reign of Edward IV appears 
supercharged with the ceremonies and reminders of religion. 
In York and London there was a church for every 500 in- 
habitants. Their steeples thrust above tiled roofs; their bells 
sounded the dominant tone of daily living; their altars and 
walls and windows offered a blaze of beauty unrivalled by 
secular buildings. Friars, priests, men in minor orders (like 
Chaucer's Somnour) were always to be seen in the streets. In 
the corporate life of the citizen, the activities of his gild and 
civic celebrations were all coloured with religious ceremonial; 
and the pattern of church observances determined his working 
hours. He downed tools at noon on Saturday for the Sunday 
holiday and at noon on the days preceding the half-dozen 
principal festivals of the Church. Counting days off for gild 


and municipal affairs and for Church holidays, a townsman 
probably enjoyed something like forty free days, exclusive of 
Sundays, during the year. 

On the other hand, if the Church had impregnated the 
world, the world of the towns had come, by the fifteenth cen- 
tury, to use the pageantry and prestige of the Church as a 
means of expressing the dignities of secular life. The Church 
festival of Corpus Christi, falling on the first Thursday after 
Trinity Sunday a likely season for fine weather was now the 
day on which the gilds, for the honour of the town, demon- 
strated in processions and plays a vfvid image of their im- 

A Corpus Christi Gild was specially dedicated, in most 
towns, to presenting the procession. At York, as in other cities, 
this gild included not only the principal townsmen but great 
lords and ladies like Richard, Duke of Gloucester and his wife 
and Richard's mother Cicely, Duchess of York. A parade of 
ecclesiastics, members of the Corpus Christi Fraternity, offi- 
cers of the city, the craft gilds in their liveries, moved in a 
dazzle of torches and crosses and banners from Holy Trinity 
Priory to the Minster, where a renowned preacher delivered 
a sermon. In the midst of the procession was borne the shrine 
of silver gilt crusted with gems that housed a beryl vase con- 
taining the Sacred Elements. Along the route the fronts of 
houses were hung with tapestries and the doorways wreathed 
in rushes and flowers. This procession at York took place not 
on Corpus Christi Day itself, but on the day after; and in most 
of the other towns it was presented early in the morning; for 
the procession had ceased to be the heart of the festival. In 
the chief towns of the Midlands and the North, the Corpus 
Christi plays, staged by the craft gilds, were the thing. 

None, it seems, enjoyed such fame as those at Coventry, or 
so allusions early in the next century suggest (*Oft in the play 
of Corpus Christi he had played the devil at Coventry 5 : Hey- 
wood, the Foure PP). In Edward IV*s time the merchants of 
Shrewsbury, disloyally pretending that they were bound for 
business at Coventry Fair, so deserted their own celebration 
that they had to be restrained by municipal ordinance from 
leaving town. Coventry showed only ten plays on ten pageant- 


wagons, with one station in each of the ten wards of the city; 
but every play was a cluster of little plays and was produced 
by a cluster of gilds. 

The small town of Beverley proudly offered thirty-six dra- 
mas, but then the stronghold of Corpus Christi playing lay in 
the North. York topped all other towns with a day-long fes- 
tival of some fifty different pageants showing Biblical scenes 
enacted by about five hundred performers. Beginning at 
dawn, the wagons, marshalled on Toft Green, wound slowly 
through the streets, pausing to exhibit their sacred stories be- 
fore the principal public places from Holy Trinity Priory to 
the Minster and before the homes of those who were rich, or 
pious, enough to pay a fee for the privilege. As in other places, 
the dramas were distributed among the gilds by a certain logic: 
the Shipwrights, Fishmongers, and Mariners drew on their 
experience to play (he tale of Noah; (he Goldsmiths made 
splendid the Three Kings coming from the East; while the 
Vintners portrayed (he Miracle at Cana. 

Banners bearing the arms of the city were planted at each 
station. A pageant-wagon, drawn by horses, rolled into posi- 
tion before the waiting crowd, the side-curtains were raised, 
and the actors launched into their parts. The spectacle was 
not all solemnity, for by this time many plays were enlivened 
by farcical moments. The Devil, a very popular character, 
leaped from a Hell-mouth' with firecrackers banging in his 
ears and tail; the ranting tyrant Herod, who flung himself into 
the street frothing at the mouth to beat his head on the cob- 
bles, was such a favourite at Coventry that he rode, arrayed 
in his kingly dress, in the religious procession. The costumes 
for God, Abraham, High Priests, 'knights* were made of ex- 
pensive stuffs; sometimes they were borrowed, or rented, from 
the gentry. Faces were painted, weapons gilded. What lacked 
in scenery was hidden by a lavish display of colours. 

This was the city's day, when nobles and knights and squires 
as well as humbler countrymen came riding in to view the 
pageants and enjoy the Mayor's hospitality. In 1478 the mayor 
of York and his 'brethren' viewed the Corpus Christi plays 
from the house of Nicholas Bewyk; they paid 9s rental for 
Nicholas' front chamber and to the 'knights, ladies, gentlemen, 


and nobles then being in the city' they sent 40s worth of ra 
^nd white wine (about forty-five gallons). It appears thai 
from Henry V to Henry VIE, all the Kings of England sa\ 
the Coventry plays at least once. Margaret of Anjou, Henr 
VTs ill-starred Queen, graced the celebration of 1457: *oi 
Corpus Christi Eve, at night, the Queen came privily to see flu 
plays and on the morrow she saw all the pageants played savi 
Doomsday, which might not be played for lack of day'. Th< 
wagons halted first at the dwelling of Richard Wood, grocer 
where the Queen lodged. For refreshments, the Mayor sen 
her three hundred loaves of fine bread, a pipe of red wine, 2 
dozen fat capons and a dozen fat pikes, panniers of peascodi 
and pippins and oranges, two 'coffins' of comfits and a pot oj 
green ginger. Among the lords and ladies attending the Queen 
was Lord Rivers, who twelve years later would be beheaded 
on Gosford Green, just outside the city walls. 

Though the festival of Coipus Christi reached the height oi 
its glory during the fifteenth century, the animating spirit 
among the gflds was already beginning to flicker. What had 
once been an act of faith, and then a zestful gesture of pride, 
had become a duty; gilds who were growing poorer, or so 
claimed, resented the money and time their members spent 
upon the pageants and tried, by one device or another, to 
wriggle out of their obligations. But the Mayor and aldermen 
were in firm control, and for the Veal of the city 5 they held 
recalcitrant gilds and gild members rigidly to the mark. 

Nothing better shows the really secular nature of the Corpus 
Christi celebration than the multiplication of town decrees de- 
signed to ensure the best possible production of plays. Gflds 
which had somehow escaped the duty of sponsoring a drama 
were forced to give financial aid to pageant-producing gilds. 
Dues called *pageant-pence' or 'pageant-silver 9 were collected 
from each gild member; fines swelled the pile of coins in tfie 
*pageant-box'; and everyone 'occupying? a craft who did not 
belong to a gild had to contribute towards the support of a 
play. All persons, churchmen as wefl as others, who made 
clasps, dog collars, and other 'gear belonging to the girdlers 5 
at York paid twice as much in pageant-silver as members of 
the gild. 


The city fathers had very much at heart the standard of 
acting and play production. Robert Erne, a man of such im- 
portance that he would one day become a sheriff, was in- 
formed that he 'and all other who play in the Corpus Christ! 
pageant shall play well and sufficiently so that there be no 
slacking hi any play, on pain of 20s to the wall fund'. Henry 
Cowper of Beverley was fined by the wardens 'because he 
did not know his part'. At Hock-time (second week after 
Easter), the magistrates of Worcester called the gilds together 
in order to determine which five of them would present then- 
pageants in that year's festival. No city took greater precau- 
tions than York to ensure good acting: it was decreed *unto 
perpetuity* that yearly at Lent 'there shall be called before the 
Mayor four of the most cunning, discreet, and able players 
within this city to search, hear and examine* all players and 
plays and pageant-wagons; 'all such as they shall find suffi- 
cient in person and cunning, to the honour of the city and 
worship of the said crafts', they will admit and aH 'insufficient 
persons either in cunning, voice, or person they will dis- 
charge. . . .' 

Producing the plays was an expensive business. Pageants 
had to be repaired and cleaned and strewn with rushes; rent 
must be found for the 'pageant-house', where wagon and gear 
were stored; clerks or schoolmasters were hired to revise the 
prompt book and copy out fresh parts and song sheets; the 
elaborate costumes frequently needed refurbishing or replace- 
ment; actors and minstrels and the prompter received a wage 
for their services; and rehearsals and moments of waiting be- 
fore and after performances had to be eased with gallons of 
good ale. In 1490 the Smiths of Coventry expended a total of 
-3 7s 5Jd on their pageant (something like 150 in mod- 
ern money) and some gilds doubtless spent more. 

A sampling of craft records shows a fraternity in the throes 
of play production: Taid at the second rehearse in Whitsun 
week in bread, ale and kitchen, 2s 4d. . . . Paid to the players 
for Corpus Christi day: imprimis to guard 2s, to Caiaphis 3s 
4d, to Herod 3s 4d, to Pilate's wife 2s, to the minstrel 14d. 
... At Richard Wood's door for ale to the players, 5d. . . . 
For St Mary's Hall to rehearse there, 2d. . . . Paid for a pint 


of wine for Pilate, Id. ... Paid for six skins of white leather 
to God's garment 18d, paid for making of the same garment 
lOd. . . . Reward to Mistress Grymesby for lending of her 
gear for Pilate's wife, 12d. . . . Four jackets of buckram for 
the Tormentors with nails and dice upon them. . . . Paid for 
the minstrels for the procession 2d and pageants 3s 6d. . . . 
Paid to Fawston for hanging Judas, 4d. . . . Paid to Fawston 
for cockcrowing, 4d. . . . For mending the white and black 
souls* coats, 8d. . . .' 

Not many weeks after Corpus Christi came the celebration 
of the 'Common Watch*, as it was called at Worcester, or the 
'Marching Watch', as it was known in London and other 
towns. This was a double muster in arms, held on Midsum- 
mer's Eve (June 23) and on the Eve of Sts. Peter and Paul 
(June 28) to express the worldly pride of the city. At early 
morn, women and children trooped into the woods to cut 
fennel and hawthorn branches and other greenery for decking 
doorways. Men cracked street paving in order to plant small 
trees before their houses (forbidden). Servants heaped up 
piles of coal and wood; lanterns were hung out. As dark fell, 
bonfires blazed, citizens danced and sang and drank in the 
streets, and gfldsmen gathered at their halls martially arrayed 
in jacks and sallets and bows and spears. Then, lighted by 
cressets and a multitude of torches, the craft gilds marched 
through the streets of the town. Sometimes the mayor and 
his officers sat before the Gildhall to review this display of 
municipal might. Sometimes the Mayor, clad in brigandines 
bright with scarlet velvet, led the procession on a war-horse. 
Half the city officers usually marched on the first night while 
the other half lined the streets; on the second night their roles 
were reversed. 

Crowds packed the town to see the show. Drinking often 
led to words and words to broils. The Prior of Coventry, 
alarmed by the bloody fighting that erupted on these nights, 
begged the Mayor to appoint constables to patrol the wards. 
He also complained that his hedges were broken and his en- 
closures damaged by the masses of people gathering greenery. 
Down in Bristol that most famous mayor and merchant, Wil- 
liam Canynges, decreed that at the conclusion of the parade 


on both nights the Mayor and Sheriffs should provide wine 
for the gildsmen. The Weavers and Tuckers (Fullers) were 
each assigned ten gallons, and, in all, twenty-six crafts re- 
ceived ninety-four gallons of wine, fetched by the gild servants 
in their own pots. 

The city magistrates staged a year-long drama of cere- 
monies, quasi-religious and civic, all of them weaving a ritual 
pattern of municipal dignity. The election of the mayor, which 
usually took place in the autumn or shortly after the New 
Year, was followed by an oath-taking on the part of the suc- 
cessful candidate, after which the old mayor delivered to his 
successor his hat of office, the King's Sword, and the casket 
containing the city seals and keys. Down in Bristol, the whole 
company of 'substantial citizens' brought home the new 
mayor to his place, with trumpets and clariners, in as joyful, 
honourable, and solemn wise as can be devised'. After they 
had dined, some with the new mayor and the rest with the old, 
they assembled at the High Cross to walk in procession to St 
Michael's and make offering. Then followed 'cakebread and 
wine' with the new mayor and Evensong. 

After dinner on All Hallows' Day, the Mayor and Sheriff 
and council of Bristol, Vith many other gentles and wor- 
shipful commoners', walked, two by two, 'unto the Mayor's 
place, there to have their fires and their drinkings with spiced 
cakebread and sundry wines, the cups merrily serving about 
the house'. On St. {Catherine's Eve (November 24), the Mayor 
and his 'brethren', after hearing Evensong, proceeded to the 
hall of the St. Katherine Gild, where they were treated to re- 
freshments; then each of the city officers retired to his dwell- 
ing in order to be ready to receive the St. Katherine's play- 
ers, making them to drink at their doors and rewarding them 
for their plays'. 

St. Nicholas* Day (December 6) marked the opening of 
Christmas revelries. In the morning the Mayor and his fellows 
heard Mass and listened to a sermon by the Boy-Bishop; then, 
after dinner, they played solemnly at dice (a traditional part 
of the festival) until the Boy-Bishop arrived with a tram of 
clerical attendants to give the town officers his blessing and 
be refreshed with bread and wine. The next day these magis- 


trates were presented with their Christmas liveries, the Mayor 
receiving 8 worth of finest scarlet cloth as well as an allow- 
ance for furs, wine, minstrels (in all, more than .90). He 
was a busy man during this season dominated by the Lord of 
Misrule. The people of Bristol, like those of other towns, cele- 
brated with mumming and gaming and dancing and brawls 
among visored rascals in dark streets. The Mayor heard ser- 
mons by friars famous for their preaching on the four Sundays 
of Advent; he inspected the wharves of Bristol to make sure 
that enough wood had been imported for the holidays, that 
sufficient 'small wood' was available for the poor, that extra 
supplies of food had been laid in since 'many strangers re- 
sorted to the town': and on Christmas Eve he issued the usual 
proclamation against wearing of masks, carrying weapons, 
and remaining in the streets without lights after curfew. 

So, throughout the year, the pageant of municipal cere- 
monies continued, a co-mingling of customary rites and in- 
creasingly secular exuberance. When the officers of Canter- 
bury led a *riding of the bounds', small children accompanied 
the parade; and at every turning the Mayor gave them pen- 
nies so that the true boundaries of the city would be perpetu- 
ated in their minds. 

The occasional arrival of mighty lords, the welcoming of 
king or queen, provided further occasion for pageantry. When 
the magistrates of York learned that their friend Richard of 
Gloucester (later Richard III) and the Scots Duke of Albany 
would reach York early on the morning of June 18 (1482) 
on their way to invade Scotland, it was ordered that 'all the 
Aldermen, in scarlet, and the Twenty-Four, in crimson, and 
every other man of craft in the city in their best array shall 
be ready the following morningthe Aldermen and Twenty- 
Four by four of the clock and every other of the city by three 
of the clock-at Miklyth Bar to attend of my lord of Glouces- 
ter's good grace. . . .' 

On important occasions cities entertained royalty with a 
show that had long been a tradition of town life. After being 
greeted a mile or two beyond the walls by the Mayor and the 
'most worshipful citizens', the King was welcomed at the gates 
by Biblical prophets or Dame Sapience or King Arthur in 


flattering rhymes. Before the principal church perhaps, the 
Four Cardinal Virtues continued the theme of praise. A con- 
duit in the market-place ran wine, as angels, perfuming the 
visitor with smoking censers, piped a tune. Farther on, the 
Nine Worthies, a fight among wodewoses (wild men), a Jesse 
tree painted on canvas delighted the King's eye and ear. If he 
tarried overnight, there would be a parade to the church, and 
King, Lords, Mayor and Aldermen, and clerks marched with 
crosses and banners around the churchyard before hearing 
Mass procession was the essence of display. 

When Edward IV entered Bristol in early September of 
1461, William the Conqueror welcomed him at the gate a 
deft compliment to the victor of Towton a giant delivered 
him the keys of the city, and at Temple Cross the King was 
treated to St. George on horseback *upon a tent, fighting with 
a dragon, and the king and the queen on high in a castle, and 
his daughter beneath with a lamb. And at the slaying of the 
dragon there was a great melody of angels'. 

Sometimes royalty preferred to dispense with ceremony, as 
when Margaret of Anjou, journeying 'suddenly from Kenfl- 
worth to Coventry unto her meat [dinner] . . . came riding 
behind a man then; and so rode the most part of her gentle- 
women 5 . Her mode of transportation was not unusual. Edward 
IVs sister Margaret, departing from London to become the 
bride of Duke Charles of Burgundy, was borne through cheer- 
ing streets upon the horse of the great Kingmaker, Warwick. 
Ladies of this age sometimes rode sidesaddle and sometimes 
astride; the custom of riding sidesaddle had been introduced 
towards the end of the preceding century by Richard IPs 
Queen, Anne of Bohemia. 

Ordinarily, when Edward IV approached a town, the mag- 
istrates and wealthiest burghers Mayor and Aldermen in scar- 
let and the citizens in violet or green or murreymet htm some 
distance beyond the walls, dismounted to kneel three times in 
the prescribed courtesy to royalty, made him a speech of wel- 
come, then escorted trim to his lodging and presented a gift 
of perhaps 50 or 100 in gold, fish, wine, and bread. 

There was no difficulty in determining which were the chief 
citizens who should accompany the Mayor and make the larg- 


est contribution towards the expenses of the King's welcome. 
Distinctions in rank among townsmen, as among lords and 
gentry, were dramatized by dress and ceremony. The social 
stratum to which any citizen belonged could be penetrated at 
a glance. 

Atop the heap stood the municipal oligarchy: 'The Cloth- 
ing*, The Scarlet*, the 'probi homines', the 'superiores', the 
substantial men 'de bone condicioun*. They inhabited, in Bris- 
tol, towered mansions with vaulted cellars for the storage of 
wine; in London and other cities, gated dwellings built around 
a courtyard; or broad houses which fronted the street in carved 
beams and handsome windows. Their wives went abroad at- 
tended by servants. They themselves wore furs and velvet and 
expensive broadcloth and usually received every year, if they 
were members of the council, a gown of the city livery. They 
were masters of the chief religious and craft gilds. The wealth- 
iest of them, the ones likeliest to become mayor, were mercers, 
drapers, grocers, goldsmiths. Towns like Bristol contained 
well-to-do weavers; dyers occasionally rose to prominence in 
Coventry; and here and there fishmongers and other victuallers 
were rich and powerful; but the chief offices fell usually to 
the merchant-traders of fifteenth-century towns. 

Next came the 'middling' class, the comfortably-well-off 
'shopholders': skinners and tailors and ironmongers and cor- 
visors (shoemakers). Among their numbers were ambitious 
young men rising towards The Scarlet 9 . Shopholders wore 
russets and kerseys and might buy good black broadcloth for 
a Sunday suit. Beneath these were the humbler artisans, sellers 
of victuals, small shopkeepers, and journeymen who hoped 
someday to own a business of their own. Apprentices, too, 
formed a part of this class, which dressed in Welsh or Kendal 
friezes and cheap worsteds. Except for those who purchased 
the freedom of the city immigrants from another town ap- 
prenticeship represented the only path to citizenship and suc- 

These ranks made up the citizens, the enfranchised, who 
voted and 'bore scot and lot' (paid taxes) and belonged to 
gilds. At the bottom of the heap were the proletariat, unskilled 
labourers most of them, who lived in frail cots or crowded 


tenements and hired themselves out as best they could. At 
Worcester, such men wishing work were required to stand at 
the Market Cross by five in the morning in summer, six in 
winter, and wait patiently for someone to engage their serv- 
ices. Cities also numbered among their inhabitants members 
of the gentry who varied their country lives by spending a 
season in their town houses, as did the Pastons at Norwich; 
but not a few knights and esquires had wholeheartedly em- 
braced the citizen's life of trade. 

A tax assessment of a tenth on goods levied at Nottingham 
hi 1472 reveals that one man paid 74s 7|d, while others paid 
as little as id. Quarterly assessments at Coventry for street- 
cleaning and paying the town minstrels were divided thus: 
*hall doors Id, shop and cot doors id". Constables making 
collections needed no official list of citizens ranked by income. 
When a subscription (not voluntary) went round for a present 
to the King or for money to pay soldiers going to the wars, 
each ward of the city usually contained a few men paying 20s 
or more, several contributing about 10s, while the great ma- 
jority were taxed at 2s or less. The assessment represented an 
acknowledged status, not a precise percentage of income. In 
many towns the poor were spared, their neighbours making 
up the difference. 

Yet, though cities displayed a strict hierarchy of prosperity 
and prestige, craft and religious gilds included all classes of 
the enfranchised. Towns were divided, spatially, into wards; 
socially, into strata determined by wealth; but the gilds were 
the organic cells of the town hive. Men knew themselves sons 
of Holy Church, subjects of the king, citizens of the town, but 
they were gildsmen to the bone. The two principal forms of 
association, the craft gild or *mistery* and the religious fra- 
ternity, were in many ways much alike. Almost all craft gilds 
enjoyed a patron saint, charitable purposes, and religious cere- 
monies. Certain of the religious fraternities were based upon 
rank or upon associations of work or trade. In Bristol the 
trade gild of the Merchant Adventurers had its religious coun- 
terpart in the Gild of Kalendars; the Merchant Adventurers 
of York were also members of the Corpus Christ! Gild. Citt- 


zens usually belonged to a craft gild and at least one religious 

Most splendid of the religious fraternities were the great 
town gilds, remnants in some places of the Gild Merchant of 
an earlier age, like the Gild of St. Mary at Lichfield, the Gild 
of Palmers at Ludlow, the Trinity Gild of Lynn. Such gilds 
were often only another name for the ruling oligarchy; some- 
times they included gentry, merchants, and nobles from all 
over England. The life of Coventry was dominated by the 
Holy Trinity and Corpus Christi Gilds; members of the ruling 
class belonged to both; and a man marked for the mayoralty 
would become master of one gild before taking office and 
master of the other upon ceasing to be mayor. 

The average citizen and his wife belonged to a religious 
fraternity organized within then* parish or including men of 
similar occupation. They might pay an entrance fee of 5s or 
6s and 2s a year in dues. The great fraternities asked much 
more. A modest one like the Gild of the Resurrection, Lin- 
coln, demanded *4d to the light and Id to the wax on entry* 
and 13d yearly in four payments. Sick benefits might amount 
to Is or more a week; burials of members were as grand as 
the 'common box* would allow, expenses being minutely speci- 
fied. The religious fraternities of the humbler classes could not 
afford to retain a chantry priest to sing for souls but managed 
to sponsor a light at an altar in the parish church; then: mem- 
bers who were sick or temporarily destitute received Id or 
2d a week. The Gild of St Michael on the Hill, Lincoln, 
firmly announced that 'whereas this gild was founded by f olk& 
of common and middling rank', no one of the status of mayor 
or bailiff could become a brother 'unless he is found to be of 
humble, good and honest conversation*, and no one was to 
have any claim to office in the gild because of his rank. 

Members of a religious gild celebrated their fraternal asso- 
ciation on *the general day'. The brethren and sisters, after 
marching two by two in then* liveries or hoods to their parish 
church to hear a Requiem Mass for deceased members, pro- 
ceeded to an inn or house, or their hall if they were prosper- 
ous, where they enjoyed a banquet. After eating and much 
ale drinking and other pleasures of good fellowship, they 


transacted gild business: moneys lent to members were ac- 
counted for; the old officers produced their reckonings; the 
company voted upon new regulations and elected officers for 
the coming year. Most gilds were headed by an Alderman; 
four 'skeveynes', or stewards, took charge of gild property; 
a Dean or Beadle summoned members to meetings; and a 
Clerk kept the minutes. 

The general day fell usually upon the day of the patron 
saint or the Sunday thereafter. Some gilds held two feast days 
yearly, others as many as four. There were also 'morne 
speeches' and 'drinkings' and other get-togethers. A number 
of gilds staged a pageant on their 'day*. The fraternity of St. 
Elene, Beverley, chose the 'fairest youth* they could find, who 
was 'clad as a queen like to St. Elene [mother of Constantine] 
and an old man goes before carrying a cross and another old 
man carrying a shovel, in token of finding Holy Cross*. With 
the gild members following, two by two, they go in proces- 
sion, with much music, to the church of the Friars Minors 
. . . and there at the altar of St. Elene solemn Mass is cele- 
brated'. The Gild of St Mary, Beverley, displayed *one clad 
in comely fashion as a queen, like to the Glorious Virgin, 
having what may seem a son in her arms; and two others 
shall be clad like to Joseph and Simeon; and two shall go as 
angels, carrying a candle-bearer on which shall be twenty-four 
thick wax lights 9 . 

On the eve of the burial of a deceased brother or sister, the 
gfld members assembled in church to hear Dirige and Placebo; 
next morning they bore the body to the church for Requiem 
Mass and then to the interment The richer fraternities pro- 
vided poor men clad as mourners carrying torches, a distribu- 
tion of alms, and numerous Masses to be said for the soul of 
the deceased on the 'month's mind* and the V 631 * 8 *nind*. 
Fines for misconduct were applied, in part, 'to the wax' an 
equal or greater amount going to swell the fund *of the ale'. 

In the various parts of the realm, religious fraternities dis- 
played special interests and attitudes. Those at Lincoln 
strongly supported pilgrimages: money was supplied to pil- 
grim-members, they were ceremoniously escorted from the 
city, and if they could give advance notice of their return, 


they were met at the town gates. In East Anglia, gild regula- 
tions evinced great concern about decorum on the general 
day, particularly unlicensed trips to the ale chamber. The fra- 
ternity of St Martin, Stamford, sponsored the hunting of a 
bull by dogs, the animal then being sold. The fraternity of the 
Annunciation, Cambridge, would admit to membership no par- 
son nor baker nor any wife unless she were the wife of a mem- 
ber. Numerous prosperous fraternities supported a school- 
master and a school. 

The craft gilds, or misteries, were as diversified as the 
religious fraternities. They included wealthy associations of 
mercers and drapers, gilds of artisans cordwainers, smiths, 
girdlers groups who rendered special services, like the 'Inn- 
holders', and unions of humble workers such as tilers and por- 
ters. The great London companies were divided into two gilds, 
one for the 'livery 9 , the most prosperous members of the craft 
or trade, the other for the journeymen. Most misteries, how- 
ever, included all classes of enfranchised workers or traders. 
Like the religious fraternities, their aims embraced churchly 
and charitable observances; but the principal object of such an 
association was to control the operation of a trade or industry. 

Craft gilds enforced established prices, laid down rules gov- 
erning hours and wages, set standards of quality and work- 
manship, and demanded the absolute obedience of all mem- 
bers to the warden and masters. 'Searchers* were appointed 
to inspect shops and workrooms in order to ensure the ob- 
servance of gfld regulations. The industry or trade over which 
a gild had the right of search established, in the eyes of the 
law, the kind of gild it was. Grocers, for example, dealt in a 
wide variety of wares, but they possessed the right of search 
only over spices. 

When a craft-gild apprentice had served his time, usually 
seven years though in some misteries as much as ten or twelve, 
his master brought him before the wardens of the gild as a 
candidate for full membership, and the wardens in turn pre- 
sented him to the Mayor as a young man who had qualified for 
town citizenship. The number of apprentices and journeymen 
a shopholder might employ was strictly limited, and the terms 
of apprenticeship were rigidly defined. Apprentices, drawn 


from yeoman families, gentry of the surrounding countryside, 
and children of the town, received board and lodging and 
some clothing and their training. A member of a rich manu- 
facturing or trading gild, however, might demand as much as 
5 as a premium for accepting an apprentice and a yearly 
payment as well. It was easier to become a smith than a gold- 

Every aspect of a man's business was controlled by his gild, 
and much of the rest of his life as well. In many towns mem- 
bers of a mistery were required to take a formal oath to their 
master and wardens so that if they afterwards defied the lead- 
ership of the gild they could be sued for breach of oath in 
ecclesiastical courts. The multiplicity of rules prohibitions, re- 
quirements, reiterations of punishment and penalties has a 
tyrannous ring; but the prime object of a craft gild was pro- 
tection and defence, protection of its monopoly of goods or 
services, defence against those seeking to evade its jurisdiction 
or undermine its prices or compete with its members. 

Gilds were all alike and all different. The Tailors of Exeter 
offer as good an example as any. Tailors worth 20 or more 
were required to be of the 'masters' fellowship of clothing*, 
which meant paying an entrance fee of a silver spoon, buying 
a livery once a year, and giving 12d to the annual feast. Mid- 
dling shopholders were organized into the 'fellowship of the 
bachelors', who paid 8d to the feast Journeymen and hired 
workers paid 6d. The Clothing and Bachelors met quarterly 
to regulate their affairs and then dined together, after which 
the journeymen were permitted to bear away the meat and 
drink that were left. The governors of the craft, the master 
and wardens, met every Thursday evening at nine o*clock to 
transact gild business. In the laying down of policy and en- 
forcing of regulations they were assisted by a Council of Eight. 
No craftsman was permitted to employ more than three jour- 
neymen and one apprentice, unless he secured a special li- 
cense. Every new apprentice had to pay a silver spoon to the 
gild; when he had completed his term, he was expected to 
furnish a breakfast for the master and wardens the day be- 
fore he became enfranchised. Tailors moving to Exeter who 
were made 'free of the craft by redemption' (i.e., by pur- 


chase) offered an entry fee of 20s and also provided a break- 

Just as the craft gilds exercised a ubiquitous paternalism 
over their members, so did town governments assert an equally 
firm control of the gilds. The mayor was, in effect, the gov- 
ernor of every mistery. Since the ruling oligarchy was com- 
posed mainly of merchants, they had a vested interest in see- 
ing that the victualling gilds provided cheap food of good 
quality, that the manufacturing misteries kept down the price 
of then- wares, that the city's good name, and theirs, was not 
besmirched by shoddy cloth, that associations of middlemen- 
sellers did not drive up the cost of living. 

In Bristol, as in other cities, the newly elected mayor sum- 
moned to him the masters of craft gilds, ordered them to pro- 
ceed to their halls for the election of officers, and required 
those officers to take an oath upholding the right of the mayor 
to oversee and amend the administration of all gilds. Their 
regulations had to be submitted to the municipality for ap- 
proval; the mayor could cancel or add what regulations he 

On the other hand, the city government stood ready to up- 
hold the authority of wardens and masters: recalcitrant gild 
members were not only fined by their mistery but were pun- 
ished by the mayor with further fines and, in the case of con- 
tinued defiance, by imprisonment. In Coventry, craftsmen 
were required to obey then- warden on pain of 100s fine- 
many a craftsman made no more than 100s a year. Appren- 
tices were enrolled before the Mayor, and their promotion to 
journeymen was registered in the city records. The municipal 
government settled all quarrels between gilds. When the 
Weavers and Corvisors of Coventry came to brawls over a 
conflicting business interest, the mayor promptly put a stern 
hand upon both parties, required the Weavers to contribute 
20s and the Corvisors 100s to be used in 'drinkings* to re- 
establish good fellowship between the crafts, heavily fined cer- 
tain gildsmen for trespass and assault, and forbade the Cor- 
visors to use fancy trade names like 'queyres enamelling 9 for 
plain blackalyre cloth. 

Rebellions flared against this iron control but were quickly 


put down. The Dyers of Coventry resented being under the 
thumb of the numerous drapers in the governing oligarchy. 
They set up secret regulations regarding methods of dyeing 
and prices, and attempted to hold their members to these regu- 
lations by oaths binding in ecclesiastical courts; but after a 
struggle the city brought the Dyers firmly to heel. The Bakers 
of Coventry on one occasion raised a riot, then marched out 
of the city, leaving the inhabitants breadless; but they were 
quickly constrained to make a humble submission and the 
ringleaders were fined and imprisoned. 

The mayor likewise looked with a jaundiced eye upon any 
movement by journeymen or other workers to combine in 
order to assert their modest rights. Such associations were 
instantly crushed, sometimes to reappear in the innocent guise 
of religious fraternities and be again suppressed Newfangled 
attempts at capitalism were also discouraged. When certain 
iron-makers of Coventry managed to coordinate the work of 
smiths and brakemen (who drew iron into rough wire) with 
the finishing operations of girdlers and cardmakers (makers 
of iron wool-combs), this combination was pronounced to be 
in restraint of trade there were dark allegations of shoddy 
workmanship leading to the ruin of the crafts. 

The mayor exercised the same hawklike supervision over 
the market-place. In the chief towns, he was King's Clerk of 
the Market, controlling the official weighing machine, "The 
Beam 9 , and Ulnager of Cloth. As one of his first acts, a new 
mayor dispatched his officers to bring in all weights and meas- 
ures that they might be compared with the city's official stand- 
ards. The Mayor, or his deputies, frequently sallied into the 
market-place to punish breaches of sanitation and to catch 
red-handed the ubiquitous regrator, male or f emale-fhat ille- 
gal middleman hated by the commons who bought up supplies 
of food to hold them for resale at a higher price. At the gates 
other officers were on the lookout for forestallers, almost as 
unpopular as regrators, who intercepted cart-loads of provi- 
sions even before they reached the market The butchers of 
London sent forestallers as far away as Northampton. 

Buying and selling in the market was hedged round by a 
thicket of regulations, beginning with the 'Assize* of bread 


put down. The Dyers of Coventry resented being under the 
thumb of the numerous drapers in the governing oligarchy. 
They set up secret regulations regarding methods of dyeing 
and prices, and attempted to hold their members to these regu- 
lations by oaths binding in ecclesiastical courts; but after a 
struggle the city brought the Dyers firmly to heel. The Bakers 
of Coventry on one occasion raised a riot, then marched out 
of the city, leaving the inhabitants breadless; but they were 
quickly constrained to make a humble submission and the 
ringleaders were fined and imprisoned. 

The mayor likewise looked with a jaundiced eye upon any 
movement by journeymen or other workers to combine in 
order to assert their modest rights. Such associations were 
instantly crushed, sometimes to reappear in the innocent guise 
of religious fraternities and be again suppressed. Newfangled 
attempts at capitalism were also discouraged. When certain 
iron-makers of Coventry managed to coordinate the work of 
smiths and brakemen (who drew iron into rough wire) with 
the finishing operations of gurdlers and cardmakers (makers 
of iron wool-combs), this combination was pronounced to be 
in restraint of trade there were dark allegations of shoddy 
workmanship leading to the ruin of the crafts. 

The mayor exercised the same hawklike supervision over 
the market-place. In the chief towns, he was King's Clerk of 
the Market, controlling the official weighing machine, *The 
Beam*, and Ulnager of Cloth. As one of his first acts, a new 
mayor dispatched his officers to bring in all weights and meas- 
ures that they might be compared with the city's official stand- 
ards. The Mayor, or his deputies, frequently sallied into the 
market-place to punish breaches of sanitation and to catch 
red-handed the ubiquitous regrator, male or female that ille- 
gal middleman hated by the commons who bought up supplies 
of food to hold them for resale at a higher price. At the gates 
other officers were on the lookout for forestallers, almost as 
unpopular as regrators, who intercepted cart-loads of provi- 
sions even before they reached the market The butchers of 
London sent forestallers as far away as Northampton. 

Buying and selling in the market was hedged round by a 
thicket of regulations, beginning with the 'Assize' of bread 


1465, August: They die right sore in Norwich' Agnes Pas- 
ton and her cousin Clere dared no longer stay there. 

1467: People began dying of the plague in London in 
March; by July the deathrate had risen so alarmingly that 
Parliament adjourned in a panic; and in November the city 
was still so crowded with dead and dying that the opening of 
the law courts had to be postponed. 

1471, September: *. . . great death in Norwich ... it is 
the most universal death that ever I wist in England. 9 Pilgrims 
told the Pastons that none of the places they had come through 
were any safer. 

November: We know not whither to flee to be better than 
we be here.' 

1479: One of the worst visitations of the age 'so universal 
a death I have never known'. The realm was so disorganized 
by terror that few records of this year survive. Edward IV 
secured a dispensation from the Pope permitting him and his 
chief courtiers to eat meat during fasting periods so that they 
might keep up their strength against the onset. Sir John Paston, 
his brother Walter, and probably his grandmother Agnes died 
this year of the disease. Young John Paston and his wife fled 
from their manor of Swainsthorpe to Norwich; when Nor- 
wich became a pit of death they could not move, for by this 
time the plague had reached Swainsthorpe. 

1485, autumn: A new plague, the Sweating Sickness, per- 
haps imported by the French mercenaries of Henry Tudor, 
victorious at Bosworth, killed two mayors and six aldermen 
of London within a few days. 

Our ancestors suffered plague and mysterious fevers and 
agues of the eye and aching teeth and festering ears and swell- 
ing of the joints and sudden paralysis and griping of the 
bowels, and yet, somehow, most of them managed to live 
hearty lives. Doctors and quacks bled patients and cast horo- 
scopes and prescribed noisome concoctions . . . and often 
were less helpful probably than village "wise women' with their 

Meanwhile, the city fathers of the English municipalities 
not only laid on prohibitions against unsanitary practices, but 


did the best they could to promote cleanliness. Most of the 
principal cities had sewers; pipes brought fresh water from 
springs and streams beyond the walls to conduits and 'bosses* 
in the streets; wells were dug at city expense. Women were 
not to do any washing at these conduits, and brewers and 
dyers and butchers were forbidden to send their apprentices 
with tubs to monopolize the public water supply. 'Skaldynge 
de hogges' and slaughtering of cattle had to be done outside 
the city walls; the butchers of London were required to cart 
entrails down to the Thames, where they were loaded on 
barges to be dumped into the river when the ebb was running 
strongly. Municipal carts periodically collected rubbish, 

The mayors struggled also to repress rampant individualism, 
rudeness, and downright nastiness. Prohibitions had to be re- 
iterated against digging clay or sand from public roads and 
greens and squares. At least one traveller during this period 
drowned as a result of riding into just such a hole in the high- 
way, which had filled with water. Towns had to enact explicit 
decrees against 'scorning of strangers'; innkeepers were cau- 
tioned against bullying potential customers; shopkeepers were 
ordered to cease sallying into the street to grasp passers-by; 
victuallers were enjoined against cutting stockfish or saltfish 
on the same board on which they had cut flesh the week be- 
fore. Not only did 'pissing in the churchyard* have to be for- 
bidden by law but also pissing in the Drapery except into 
the gutter running down the middle of the building. 

After plague, fire was the great hazard of the towns; a blaze 
fanned by wind could quickly wipe out a block of wooden 
houses, for even the best fire-fighting equipment of the time, 
providently disposed, was cumbersome and slow. Fire-fighting 
regulations were probably better observed than the laws of 
sanitation. At Coventry, it was forbidden to curry leather 
within the city limits, for fear of fire. Thatched roofs and 
chimneys 'of tree* were prohibited in most cities. Certain men 
in each ward were required to store fire-hooks (for pulling 
down buildings), ropes, rings, and ladders. Each citizen was 
supposed to own a leather bucket. In Worcester, fire-hooks 
were available in three parts of the city, and citizens were 


appointed to haul water from the conduits by horse and cart, 
in case of fire. 

Even fundamental orderliness was not easy to achieve in 
that age when men were quickly stirred to joy, tears, anger. 
Words in the streets soon led to blows and blows to bloodshed 
With feeling the prologue to action and most men going armed 
with knife or dagger, towns sought to prevent weapon-carry- 
ing except by those of the rank of gentlemen or above not 
that gentlemen were more pacific, merely more influentiaL 
Words were carefully hearkened to. A threat or ^unfitting lan- 
guage* was enough to bring a man before the mayor's court. 
In order to prevent feuding or the rise of factions, the magis- 
trates of York rigorously investigated malicious gossip. Action 
had to be quick and penalties severe because there were never 
enough constables or sergeants to provide adequate policing 
of the city. Paid officers patrolled by day; the ni^ht watch was 
usually the duty of citizens, who evaded it whenever they 
could. Constables pursuing a malefactor were sometimes man- 
handled by that malefactor's friends or so vividly threatened 
that they rushed back to the mayor to report that they had 
been put in fear of life and limb. 

In their pursuit of decorum, city magistrates kept as watch- 
ful an eye as they could upon sexual morals. 'Known* prosti- 
tutes were driven away or forced to wear a striped hood of 
shame and dwell in the suburbs. The mayor lectured adulterers 
in open court and exposed lecherous clerks to public ridicule 
in the stocks. Coventry required all single women up to the 
age of forty either to take chambers* in the home of honest 
folk or go into service, until they were married; and the mayor 
decreed that any person 'entreating for the favouring of any 
misliving woman* was to be fined 20s. 

The menace of the 'sturdy beggar* was now beginning to 
fafl upon the towns, though he would not become a wide- 
spread social evil until the hard times of the Tudors. In 1473 
Edward IVs council issued a proclamation, to be read in all 
the cities of the realm, against vagabonds who feigned sick- 
ness or pretended to be pilgrims or passed for poor University 
clerks. They were a political danger, for they wandered from 
town to town 'sowing seditious languages'. After the accession 


of Henry VII, such proclamations were multiplied, and the 
King sent frequent orders to mayors to round up vagabonds 
and gamesters. 

No wonder that the mayor had to be a wealthy man. Ex- 
pressing the honour of the city in a year-long parade of cere- 
monies and governing a hardy race of townsmen with inade- 
quate means that often had to be backed by sheer assertion 
of authority and personality, the merchant-turned-mayor had 
no time for his business or other private concern. During 
his year, he belonged to the city; and the city, saving the King's 
prerogative, belonged to him. On the record, most mayors of 
the time appear to have performed their duties with zeal, even 
with aplomb. The tough life of trade, the apprenticeship in 
rule offered by lower municipal offices provided a good school 
of government. 

Surviving documents sketch two discernible types of may- 
ors, with infinite variety between. One is the magistrate who 
governed in the gjow of his fame as a merchant It is not 
surprising that Bristol five times chose for mayor William 
Canynges, whose merchant's mark was known throughout Eu- 
rope and who was the son of a renowned mayor. Canynges 
built and operated a fleet that included some of the largest 
merchant-vessels sailing under the English flag, kept almost a 
thousand men employed at times on his far-flung enterprises, 
entertained King Edward in his mansion, secured additional 
privileges for Bristol by presenting the King with a large sum 
of money, rebuilt one of the loveliest churches in the realm, 
St. Mary Redcliffe, and ended his days humbly within Holy 
Orders. Canynges was the very symbol of Bristol's proud sea- 

The other pattern of mayors is represented by Thomas 
Wrangwysh, twice elected chief magistrate of the vigorous, 
and sometimes turbulent, city of York. Thougji he must have 
been a successful trader since he was Master of the Merchant 
Adventurers Gild, he achieved his chief fame in serving the 
Metropolis of the North. He won the friendship of Richard, 
Duke of Gloucester, the 'special good lord of York' and a 
man not easily impressed. On several occasions when Edward 


IV or his brother Richard summoned soldiers from the city, 
Wrangwysh was chosen to be their captain; when York was 
negotiating a reduction of its tee-farm* (yearly tax), his fel- 
low-townsmen elected him their chief Parliamentary repre- 
sentative. He appears to have been equally at home in the 
saddle and in the council chamber. Two characteristic mo- 
ments of action suggest the force of his personality. 

During his second term as mayor, in January of 1485, 
Thomas Wrangwysh ordered Sheriff Thomas Fynch to deliver 
one William Friston from gaol 'upon sufficient surety*. A serv- 
ant of Fynch's named Raby not only disobeyed this order 
but treated the prisoner cruelly. Wrangwysh thereupon com- 
mitted Raby to gaol and 'because Friston lay in the stocks 
without meat or drink, the Mayor commanded that Raby 
should have no meat or drink likewise*. Nevertheless, another 
servant of the Sheriffs secretly 'came by water' and provided 
Raby with *sufficient meat and drink from Thomas Fynch's 

Wrangwysh, discovering the little game, summoned Fynch 
to appear in the Council Chamber. Though the Sheriff was 
able to show that he had no knowledge of the business, Mayor 
Wrangwysh commanded Fynch to prison. Fynch angrily de- 
clared that he would be his own gaoler and stalked off escorted 
by six Serjeants-at-the-Mace. But on the way a band of 
Fynch's adherents, heavily armed, took him with a strong 
hand from the said Serjeants*. Tempers boiled as men in the 
streets instantly became partisans: There arose among the 
commons there present a great and jeapardous scrimmage and 
affray' in which divers men were hurt 

Hearing of the riot, Wrangwysh strode into the street at the 
head of his councillors, staled the fight by his words and pres- 
ence, and fetched F^nch back to the Council Chamber. The 
Sheriff then and there humbled himself unto the Mayor's com- 
mandment* Men were still muttering in the streets, so Wrang- 
wysh and his fellows themselves 'came forth with Thomas 
Fynch and put him in gaol*. That night, the Mayor permitted 
Fynch to go home, but not until William Friston had first been 
delivered from prison. 

At the end of this same year, the city of York, still loyal to 


Richard m, who had been slain four months before at Bos- 
worth, was daring to resist attempts by Henry VII, Richard's 
conqueror, and the Earl of Northumberland, Richard's be- 
trayer, to force upon the city as Recorder a man named 
Grene, in the place of Miles Metcalfe, who had been an ar- 
dent supporter of Richard. Twice the King and the Earl per- 
emptorily urged Grene's appointment and twice the city 
evaded these commands. On December 12 came yet a third 
letter from Henry VH, harshly ordering the city fathers to 
give Grene possession of the recordship. In Grene's presence 
the town clerk read this communication before the council, of 
which Thomas Wrangwysh, his term of mayor finished, was a 
member. Once again the council decided to continue their 
postponement of the issue. Grene flew into such a rage that 
he snatched the King's letter from the clerk and rushed from 
the chamber. The councillors had just the man to handle this 
situation. Three days later, Thomas Wrangwysh, King Rich- 
ard's friend, returned the document to the clerk. With this 
quiet, resolute action he passes from history, in his way as 
symbolic of the age as William Canynges. 


DURING the reign of Edward IV the mayors of the chief towns 
of the realm not only administered local affairs but, like the 
princes of the earth, they devoted time and energy to foreign 
relations. England was still so loosely organized, politically, 
that mayors were required to deal with neighbouring gentry, 
magnates of the kingdom, the King himself, and Holy Church. 
Chief magistrates all pursued the same policy: to maintain 
the independence of the city, satisfy the King's demand for 
loyal and orderly rule, and diminish whatever temporal rights 
the clergy claimed to exercise within town walls. 

Nothing so demeaned the dignity of the mayor and irked 
the sensibilities of the ruling oligarchy as outside interference 
with the affairs of the city. Towns of the Yorkist Age usually 
treated on terms of equality and mutual respect with nearby 
lords or the magnates of the realm. Gone were the days when 
a Mayor of Exeter was forced to acknowledge himself the 
Earl of Devon's man and humbly do the EarFs bidding 01 
when an Earl of Northumberland or one of the Nevilles could 
overawe the city of York. Nobles were still able occasionally 
to bend a town to their will, though only during troubled times. 
Here and there townsmen accepted a lord's livery and became 
his adherent, but mayors emphatically joined their own pro- 
hibitions and penalties to proclamations of the King forbidding 
this practice. A citizen who wore a noble's colours was a 
potential source of disaffection, a traitor within the walls. Fo: 
the most part, lords hi this age cultivated the good will oi 

The city of York enjoyed a profitable relationship witt 


Richard of Gloucester, who ruled the North from his castle 
of Middleham in Wensleydale. When York wished to dis- 
charge an incompetent clerk or remove from the River Ouse 
illegal 'fishgarths' protected by powerful interests or to secure 
a diminution of its fee-farm, the city turned confidently to 
the Duke of Gloucester, who never failed to plead its cause 
with his brother, Edward IV. When the Duke learned that a 
servant of his named Redeheid had bullied and insulted a citi- 
zen of York who was visiting Middleham Castle, he sent Rede- 
heid to the city under guard so that he might be punished 
according to the judgement of the Mayor and Aldenneru 
Shortly after this incident, a tailor, John Davyson, who was 
bitterly at odds with Roger Brere, saddler, could think of no 
better way to get his enemy in trouble than to spread the re- 
port that Brere had made a jibe against the Duke of Glouces- 
ter. The chief men of York were so much disturbed by 
this gossip that William Melrig, who was falsely alleged to 
have heard Brere's slanderous remark, was summoned before 
the Mayor, Sheriffs, Chamberlains, and a concourse of citi- 
zens to make his emphatic denial. 

Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, went out of his way 
to flatter the city, hoping to rival the Duke of Gloucester's 
popularity; but when the Earl brought pressure to have one 
of his servants made Sword-bearer, the city fathers promptly 
decreed that, since it was against the custom of York for a 
man to seek office through outside influence, Percy's candidate 
was not to be given the post, nor any other. 

The city of Bristol was also allied with a neighbouring mag- 
nate. In the fourteenth century the Lords of Berkeley had 
harassed Bristol and used force to constrain its liberties. By 
the period of the Wars of the Roses, however, the Berkeleys 
fvere trading in wool and corn and wine with Bristol mer- 
chants and going into partnership with Bristol shipowners to 
freight goods and rob carracks of Genoa. In 1470 a feud 
;vhich had lasted for a generation between the Berkeleys and 
:he Talbot Earls of Shrewsbury broke into open warfare. Lord 
Lisle, son of the Countess of Shrewsbury, rode forth at the 
lead of hundreds of armed men. The Berkeleys appealed to 
Bristol, and not in vain. A strong contingent of troops sallied 


from the town and Bristol archers helped the little Berkeley 
army to crush the forces of Talbot on Nibley Green, where 
Lord Lisle was killed. Maurice Berkeley, son of Lord James, 
married the daughter of a mayor of Bristol. At her burial in 
1517, the officers of the city escorted her coffin with 200 
torches, followed by thousands of mourning citizens. After the 
interment there was a great 'drinking' in St. Mary's Hall, 'and 
I thank God', wrote the steward, *no plate nor spoons was 
lost, yet there was twenty dozen spoons*. 

On occasion, a great lord could still make his weight un- 
pleasantly felt, particularly if he was Richard Neville, Earl of 
Warwick (the Kingmaker), the greatest lord of all. When, in 
1464, the Mayor of Coventry found it impossible to resolve a 
complicated quarrel between Will Huet and Will Bedon, he 
appealed to the King to decide the matter. Edward IV wisely 
requested the city to try local arbitration. Finally the Mayor 
himself gave a decision in Will Bedon's favour. Huet broke 
into such 'inordinate and seditious language' that the Mayor 
clapped him in gaol and reported his action to the King, who 
sent back his thanks for this prompt repression of Huet's un- 
ruliness. But Huet had friends who knew where to turn. They 
laboured unto my lord of Warwick', whose castle stood 
nearby. The Kingmaker, furious with Edward IV at this mo- 
ment for his having secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, was 
only too glad to show that he could thwart Edward's authority. 
Unable to withstand the wishes of the mighty earl, the mayor 
reluctantly decreased the amount of money Huet was required 
to pay Bedon and freed him from prison. This interference, 
the town clerk noted angrily, was 'to our great rebuke'; and it 
appears that by this action Richard Neville lost the hearts of 
the governing class of Coventry. 

Interference by the King was another matter, for the King 
was lord of most of the principal towns. Mayors displayed a ; 
somewhat ambiguous attitude toward royal intermeddling in 
their aifairs. They bitterly resented any attempt by a citizen 
to appeal over their heads to royal authority. Too often such 
appeals forced city officers to make a journey to Westminster 
or brought a privy seal reprimanding the city for failure to 
keep proper order. When Edward IV or Henry VII proposed 


a candidate for one of the town offices, the mayor and his 
fellows almost always accepted the royal nominee, but they 
clearly disliked this dictation. 

On the other hand, mayors showed themselves quick to call 
for royal help if their rights were threatened or a local situa- 
tion was getting out of hand, as Coventry had turned to the 
King to settle the Huet-Bedon affair. The city of Nottingham, 
troubled by citizens flaunting the livery of Lord Grey, took 
their problem to the royal council. In the Star Chamber, Ed- 
ward IV himself straitly ordered Grey to give no more liveries 
in Nottingham and to cease stirring up broils in the city, and 
Grey meekly promised to obey the King's command. When 
rioting broke out hi York over the enclosure of certain com- 
mon lands, the city sent hasty word to Richard HI to know 
how he wished the guilty parties to be punished. A quarrel 
between Coventry and Bristol over wharfage fees which Bris- 
tol exacted from Coventry merchants was, by mutual consent, 
submitted to the royal council. The Mayor did not like the 
King looking over his shoulder, but was glad to be able to 
turn to him, at need. 

Edward IV and Richard HI and Henry VH kept a close and 
jealous eye upon their cities. At the first sign of disorder, down 
from Westminster came a privy seal or a royal emissary re- 
buking the laxity of the mayor; but the royal government was 
also quick to acknowledge even small examples of authori- 
tarian vigour by city magistrates. The King was much more 
sensitive to disorder in his cities than in his countryside; unruly 
towns advertised a weak central government. 

Though most towns during the Yorkist Age kept on good 
terms with lords and with the king, they carried on a bitter 
warfare with another power. This great enemy lay within their 
very gates: the Church, robed in the might of tradition, wealth, 
the holy sacraments of the Faith Catholic. Priors, bishops, 
abbots clung to ancient privileges that, in the view of towns- 
men, grossly infringed municipal liberties, scorned communal 
pride, and thwarted the mayor's government 

The fight between Church and mayors had been going on 
for centuries; during the reign of Edward IV the rising power 
and prosperity of the towns increased the intensity of the strug- 


gle. One of the reasons Henry Vin so easily toppled the 
Church Temporal was that his townsmen had inherited from 
their fathers and grandfathers a fierce resentment against ec- 
clesiastical claims to worldly domination. 

Towns which had grown up on Church lands were the un- 
lucky ones, helpless in the grip of precedent. However large 
and prosperous they had become, they were forced to remain 
within the small destinies that had been theirs when they were 
no more than straggles of cottages outside a priory gate or 
next a bishop's wharf. Towns like Reading and Bury St. Ed- 
munds and Bishop's Lynn alternated riots and litigation in a 
desperate battle to shake themselves free-by the fifteenth cen- 
tury, parchment was more frequently the weapon than pole- 
axesbut the bishop's or the abbot's bailiff stood always ready 
to enforce his master's right if a mayor dared have a mace of 
office borne before hfm or the citizens tried to establish a 
market of their own. No matter how ingeniously, persistently, 
expensively the citizens pleaded their cause in the courts, the 
ecclesiastical lord but had to produce his musty charters and 
the fight went for naught. 

In the fifteenth century, Winchester, ancient capital of 
Saxon kings, well nigh drowned in waves of ecclesiastical priv- 
ilege. The Mayor ruled less than half his city; three of the 
town gates, the traffic of the river, the market were in the grip 
of the Church. Yearly, as the Bishop of Winchester's great 
fair of St. Giles was about to open, that prelate's officers closed 
all the shops and took over the rule of the city for the dura- 
tion of the fair. When changes hi the manufacture and dis- 
tribution of cloth struck at the prosperity of Winchester, the 
citizens had neither the means nor the hope to fight misfortune. 

The towns on royal domain, which included the chief cities, 
were able, however, to wage vigorous battle. 

In the fifteenth century the city of Norwich, where dwelt 
a hardy civic spirit, struggled against a powerful combination 
of county magnates and local prelates. At one time or another 
the city was quarrelling with the Warden of St. Paul's Hospital, 
the Prioress of Carrow, the Abbots of Holme and Wendling, 
and the man who controlled the cathedral precincts, the Prior 
of Norwich. The Prior used fraud as well as force, buying the 


services of the city Recorder and other officers, calling on the 
armed retainers of his county friends to overawe the citizens. 
They fought back as best they could. Four times between 1433 
and 1444 the King seized the franchises of Norwich into his 
own hands when disturbances reached the pitch of riot Twice 
the aldermen and citizens, betrayed by the Prior's creatures, 
forcibly removed the city seal from the treasury to prevent 
the incumbent Mayor, fraudulently elected, from sealing away 
the rights of the community. To preserve their liberties, the 
citizens and their genuine mayors formed a mysterious asso- 
ciation, *Le Bachery*, ostensibly a religious gHd devoted to 
maintaining a light hi the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin of the 
Fields, but actually a body formed to lay plans and concert 

On Shrove Tuesday of 1443 'the King of Christmas' ap- 
peared in the streets of Norwich. A merchant named John 
Gladman headed a fantastic procession of one hundred and 
thirty people. He wore a paper crown and his horse was 
trapped with tinsel and other nice dxsguisy things*. Before 
him rode twelve men each representing a month of the year 
'disguised after the season required, and Lent clad in white 
and red herring skins and his horse trapped with oyster shells 
after him'. But wild words were flying in the streets; men 
declared that the city was strong enough to slay the Bishop, 
the Abbot of Holme, and the Prior. Somewhere, somehow, 
violence flared. The bells began to ring. Suddenly three 
thousand citizens had swarmed to arms. They marched on 
the priory, ringed it with helmeted men, laid guns against the 
gates. The trembling monks were forced to deliver up a 
hated deed, which bound the city to pay the Prior four shillings 
a year, and to relinquish jurisdiction over certain lands. To 
prevent the Prior's county friends from helping him., the 
aroused citizens clapped shut their gates and maimed the 

But they could not resist the King, and in this age the 
King's government favoured order and the status quo at any 
cost. Once again the municipal franchises were revoked. Down 
came a commission of lords and justices to investigate and 
indict. 'Many of the worthy men of the city fled into other 


countries over the sea for dread, with as much of their goods 
as they might have with them.* The franchises were restored 
three years later and King Henry VI himself visited Nor- 
wich in 1448; hut the quarrel between the citizens and the 
Prior went on, sometimes riotously, sometimes litigiously, un- 
til Henry Vin put an end to all such quarrels. 

In Canterbury, of all English cities, Town and Gown might 
be expected to enjoy peaceful relations. Before that marvel of 
Europe, the jewel-crusted shrine of Thomas & Becket 'gold 
was the meanest object to be seen there' pilgrims poured a 
stream of offerings; and in the inns and cook-shops and taverns 
of the town they also left behind mounds of coins. The citizens 
of Canterbury held their muster-m-arms to commemorate the 
death of Becket. On a pageant wagon decked as an altar, boys 
enacted the slaying of the 'holy blisful martyr*. The four mur- 
derers plunged their swords into concealed bladders of blood 
to give realism to the scene, and a mechanical angel, sus- 
pended above, flapped its wings. 

Yet not even their love of St. Thomas nor their takings 
from the pilgrims could reconcile the citizens to the clerical 
pretensions that chafed their liberties. As doughtily as the 
men of Norwich, they carried on a running fight, and had for 
centuries, with the Abbot of St. Augustine's, with the Arch- 
bishop, and with the Prior of Christ Church. 

The Mayor and the Abbot quarrelled about water rights; 
they disputed the privilege of arresting evildoers on a high- 
way which belonged to the King but ran through abbey lands; 
they disagreed over the regulations of the fishmarket Canter- 
bury, stuffed with clerics, needed large supplies of sea food: 
all over England churchmen were constantly causing trouble 
by their efforts to provide convents, abbeys, chapters, friaries 
with sufficient fish* 

The city quarrelled with the Archbishop over ecclesiasti- 
cal immunities and restraints of trade. He held a city within 
the city, the walled borough of Staplegate, an affront to the 
citizens* pride and to their purses, which was exempt frorr 
all lay jurisdiction, the King's as well as the Mayor's. His 
Westgate and Wingham tenants were likewise outside towr 
authority. In 1467 the municipality complained bitterly as it 


had done almost two hundred years before that the Westgate 
men, crowding their houses on to the bank of the river, had 
caused the stream to drive against the city walls and under- 
mine them. Wingham men intercepted fish bound for Canter- 
bury, thus diminishing the city's provisions and the city's tolls; 
but the citizens could do nothing about this hated forestalling, 
for the Archbishop possessed a right to have a market at 
Wingham. In 1480, however, the Mayor eased the city's feel- 
ings with a harmless martial display. When the Archbishop's 
officers seized a rent on certain land outside the city walls, 
the Mayor collected a body of citizens, marched to the 
meadow in warlike style, and on arrival served out wine to 
refresh his troops. 

With the Prior of Christ Church, the city's most irksome 
and formidable foe, there had been centuries of angry con- 
troversy. Ugly incidents still occurred but in the fifteenth 
century the warfare was waged mostly by protest or law suit 
The Mayor and the Prior were constantly at loggerheads 
over a variety of issues benefit of clergy which let criminous 
clerks off much too lightly, right of arrest, abuse of sanctuary, 
payment of taxes, control of the river, market jurisdiction. 

Feeling boiled up in 1425 when a certain alien called Ber- 
nard the Goldsmith escaped from the city prison and suc- 
ceeded in reaching the cathedral. He was hotly pursued by 
the bailiffs and an angry crowd of townsmen. The fugitive 
tried to hide within the rails of a monument to Archbishop 
Chicheley, but the furious mob thrust arms and sticks be- 
tween the bars, clawed at him and beat him, finally tore frtm 
loose from his refuge, and began to drag htm down the nave. 
At that moment a band of cathedral servants fell on the in- 
truders. The prisoner was jerked from their hands and they 
were driven out of the church. 

The issue of taxation did not lead to violence but caused 
much heartburning among the citizens. Right in their midst 
the Priory of Christ Church possessed rents worth 200 a 
year and five acres of land which contributed nothing to the 
city's support or the city's tax burden. The citizens demanded 
that the prior should at least help to maintain the town walls. 
This quarrel smouldered until 1492, when the priory, having 


secured a portion of the wall, agreed to keep its stretch in 

In the streets of Canterbury bickerings and incidents were 
common. When a serjeant ventured on church ground with 
his mace, it was rudely taken away from him. Clerks fouled 
the city ditch with filth deliberately, the Mayor declared. 
Much to the Prior's ire, the townsmen retaliated against cleri- 
cal encroachment by breaking their Christmas customs. They 
no longer gathered as of old around the tomb of Archbishop 
Sudbury to say prayers for his soul, and when lords rode into 
Canterbury with the King's seasonal offering to St. Thomas, 
the citizens refused to accompany them hi state to the 

The river and the market, however, were the great, the 
endless subjects of dispute. Mayor and Prior had amicably 
agreed upon straightening the course of the river, but the 
effects of this operation on the Prior's mill and on the city's 
mill led to bitter trouble. Each side claimed that the other's 
mill was injuring its own. In 1499 a water-war broke out. 
Summoning his forces, the Prior dug a trench which diverted 
water from the city mill, whereupon the Mayor assembled his 
forces, destroyed the offending trench, and constructed a dam 
to impound water for the city mill. Forth sallied the Prior's 
men to cut the dam. The Mayor led a little army to the river 
meadows, routed the enemy, seized their arms, and marched 
home in triumph. Next day he dealt the Prior a still shrewder 
blow: he dismantled the city market by the priory gate, on 
which priory tenants were always encroaching, and set up a 
market in open ground around St. Andrew's Church. 

The Prior rallied his powers to oppose this indignity. Ec- 
clesiastical tenants refused to sell in the new market; priory 
servants made themselves as unpleasant as possible when they 
came to buy fish. At the market stalls the citizens contributed 
their share of jostling and black looks and on one occasion 
seized a great halibut from the caterer of Christ Church as 
he was bearing it to the priory. When the Prior sought to by- 
pass the market by convoying fish from the seaside, the 
Mayor's men promptly confiscated the fish at the city gate, 
'disappointing the brethren of their dinners'. 


The outraged Prior finally brought suit at Westminster. The 
citizens took up the challenge zestfully, collected voluntary 
contributions to support the cause, and appointed the Mayor 
to conduct their defence. He and numerous aldermen made 
several trips to London, all of them expensive, the costs mi- 
nutely recorded: hire of horses to Rochester, then hire of 
barges and cloaks for the journey to London; '3d paid at 
Sittingbourne in washing of my shirts*. In London the Mayor 
was constantly dispensing money to counsel: 10s one day, 
19s another; 3s 4d daily to each of three lawyers for four 
days work at Westminster Hall; 37s 4d paid for the examina- 
tion of sixteen persons, at 2s 4d a head, in the Star Chamber. 
There were other important 'incidentals' and money was not 
stinted: 16d paid by the Mayor for bread and drink and 
rent, when he assembled his witnesses in a house beside St. 
Paul's to rehearse them in their evidence 'against they came 
into the Star Chamber'. The Recorder of London received 20s 
for inspecting the city's bill of particulars and a treat in the 
buttery of the Palace of Westminster which meant a further 
payment 'in reward to the officers of the king's buttery for 
their good cheer 12d and to the cook of the king's kitchen 8d'. 
When the Mayor sent word home that gifts were needed to 
help make friends in proper places, several members of the 
Common Council hastened up to London with two great trout 
and ten capons. 

Despite this drain of money and energy, the citizens of 
Canterbury must have been pleased with the generalship of 
their mayor, for the market never went back to the priory 

The most remarkable battle of the age between townsmen 
and the Church, however, took place in the West Country; it 
resists the erosion of time because the protagonist left a racy 
account both of the struggle and of himself. 

Down at Exeter, in the early 1440's the hearts of the citizens 
dafly waxed more bitter. Opposite their town hall rose the 
gates and walls of an alien power the cathedral church of 
St. Peter, the Bishop's palace, and ecclesiastical precincts. 

Indifferent to the city's good, the Bishop and his clergy 


and his tenants were planted in the very bowels of the city's 
life. 'Of time that no mind runneth 5 Exeter had been a city, 
the citizens asserted, long before there was such a thing as 
Bishop, Dean, and Chapter. The clergy retorted that the city 
government was a rank parvenu; when the bishopric was es- 
tablished by Edward the Confessor, no such upstarts as mayor 
and aldermen peopled the world. 

Town claimed a right of way through the cloisters to the 
cathedral, which the Bishop, Dean, and Chapter maliciously 
kept locked. Gown retorted that the cloister doors were barred 
because ill-bred young people 'exercised unlawful games' there 
and defouled the walls and broke glass by playing tennis. 
Burghers who lived in the neighbourhood of a certain Bevys 
tavern, hard by the cathedral close, declared that the night 
was made hideous by the uproarious carousing and drunken 
quarrels of clerks. The clergy answered that they had no 
unruly folk within their precincts: such disturbances must 
have been raised by citizens and their precious mayor, who 
was himself *cause and giver of example to all such misgov- 

The city chafed against flouting of its laws and injuries to 
its trade. Ecclesiastical tenants encroached on the High by 
erecting huge market stalls in front of their properties, re- 
fused to pay then: taxes, evaded taking their turn at the watch. 
The canons were as bad or worse: they dumped their filth 
into a city lane; they appropriated postern gates in the city 
wall, and through these gates 'suspicious men and women 
have been let in and out' and 'divers men that should have 
been arrested conveyed away'. In the very palace of the 
Bishop, as well as in the houses of canons, the clergy sold 
wine which they had illegally imported without paying the 
city's custom duty of 4d a pipe or the city's retail tax of 12d 
a pipe. Furthermore, though this wine was often 'found cor- 
rupt*, the Bishop had prevented the city officers from cast- 
ing it into the gutter; indeed, the clerks had carried this foul 
wine to the port of Topsham, and shipped it back to Bordeaux 
to be mixed with good wine and reimported. The city's assize 
of bread, too, had been defied, and light loaves sold to the 
citizens; and the city's coroner had been driven off when he 


sought to hold his inquiry upon prisoners who had died in 
the Bishop's gaol. 

The clergy, labelling these attacks slander, declared them- 
selves 'oppressed and enthralled* by wolvish citizens. Old 
Bishop Lacy icily laid down the dictum that the church pos- 
sessed a fee', a jurisdiction, entirely separate from that of 
the city, over which knavish city officers had no authority 
whatsoever. As tempers frayed, life in Exeter grew ugly with 
*night-walking, evfl language, visaging, shouldering, and an 
riotous rule'. To bolster his pretensions, Bishop Lacy applied 
to the King for a grant of authority. After all, the bishops 
on the royal council were his brothers, and pious Henry VI 
was only too happy to do what bishops requested. Edmund 
Lacy duly secured letters patent confirming his claim. 

This move sounded the call to battle in the ears of the men 
of Exeter. Their right to rule themselves would become but a 
mockery unless they nullified the letters patent; and they 
could do this only by proving in court that the grant ran 
counter to the city's royal charter. They took their stand on a 
claim to possess a jurisdiction older than the Bishop's, for in 
the fifteenth century such a case was bound to be decided by 
the sheer weight of evidences, by what had been decreed in 
the past, however inequitable the decree was in the present 
But in their hearts, they claimed the right to govern them- 
selves because they were free men. 

In this crisis they had a man to turn to, an alderman and 
merchant. Popular at home, he was known beyond the walls 
of Exeter, was an acquaintance of the Lord Chancellor him- 
self. If any man understood the ways of the great world, 
where the suit would have to be fought, and could uphold 
the city's dignity while he was urging its cause, that man was 
John Shillingford. He came of an old county family, taking 
his name from the village of Shillingford, whence Ms fore- 
bears had moved into Exeter to embrace the life of trade. 
His father, famed for his learning in the law, was twice 
Mayor; doubtless John Shillingford had been sent to one of 
the Inns of Courts in London, where he learned worldly 
manners, polished his Latin, and acquired that knowledge of 


the law which was well nigh essential to men of property and 
position in fifteenth-century England. 

At Michaelmas, 1444, the city elected him Mayor. Unac- 
countably, John Shillingford refused the office. Being a shrewd 
politician, as will appear, he perhaps determined to embark 
upon the struggle only if the city gave him a bold demonstra- 
tion of its will to follow his banner. In any case, he got the 
bold demonstration. The principal citizens promptly applied 
to the King's council for a writ against their recalcitrant 
Mayor-elect. Early in the New Year (1445), a privy seal 
duly came down to Exeter ordering John Shillingford, on 
pain of 1000, to assume his duties. 

He assumed them with a will. Soon the Bishop was blaming 
everything on the wilful labour of John Shillingford in whose 
time ever hath been great trouble'. 

If he needed a spur, there occurred, not long after, an inr 
cident that stirred the citizens to fighting pitch. One Hugh 
Lucays, a tenant of the Bishop, 'the most or one of the most 
misgoverned men of all the city of Exeter or of all the shire', 
attacked a citizen in the King's High Street at the very door 
of the Gildhall. John Glasyer, a Serjeant of the city, promptly 
arrested Lucays; but the prisoner broke away from his captor 
and hot-footed it for the Bishop's domain. Glasyer and an- 
other serjeant pursued him through the cemetery and into the 
cathedral and there laid hands on him. Immediately a swarm 
of clerks attacked the officers 'with swords, custellis, long 
knives, and Irish skenes'. Others clapped shut the cathedral 
doors in the faces of two city stewards who had followed 
freshly 5 only sixteen feet behind their fellows. By the time 
the stewards found an open door, the prisoner had been vio- 
lently recovered; the Serjeants appeared on the verge of losing 
their lives. When one of the stewards interposed his mace of 
authority, it was knocked aside with the blow of a custefl 
that left a nick in it The officers were glad to get out of the 
church unharmed. 

The city angrily demanded the return of Lucays and the 
punishment of ecclesiastics who had interfered with the king's 
justice. The Bishop's men refused with equal heat; they knew 
nothing, they said, of Lucays* alleged misdeed; he was fa- 


riously driven into the said Cathedral Church by officers with 
swords, daggers and other invasive weapons against the peace 
drawn'; the godly ministers, habited for divine service, had 
laboured to save Hugh's life, 'as priests ought to do% without 
meaning any harm to the city officers; and if the mace was 
nicked, it was because the steward had smote John Pawton, 
a priest, on the head with it. 

John ShiUingford and his aldermen decided to provoke the 
Bishop to a suit, if they could. On Ascension Day, 1445, the 
Serjeant-at-the-Mace boldly arrested a servant of the cathedral 
chancellor; at the moment, this servant was in the very palace 
of the Bishop and was holding up from the ground his mas- 
ter's golden cope as the chancellor and his fellow ecclesiastics 
were going in solemn procession to the cathedral! 

The bishop was not yet to be drawn. At the end of his term, 
Shillingford stepped down from office. But at Michaelmas, 
1446, the city again elected him Mayor. Within a few weeks 
two more clerks were arrested on church ground. Hien 
Bishop Lacy brought suit, claiming the enormous damages 
of 1000 for false arrest. But the Bishop and his counsel 
apparently recognized that the claim to a separate jurisdic- 
tion was weak. Therefore Edmund Lacy used his influence at 
court to secure a privy seal ordering the question to be de- 
cided by the Lord Chancellor and the two Chief Justices. 

Sfaillingf ord at once opposed this move, for he knew well 
that he had a far better chance of winning at Common Law, 
where the evidences would count for more and vested inter- 
ests for less. He fired off a protest to the Chancellor and an- 
other to the King, in which he boldly asserted that the privy 
seal ran counter to Magna Carta. These petitions were disre- 
garded. Both sides began the process of submitting proofs, 
articles of complaint, replications to the adversaries* proofs 
and articles, rejoinders to the replications. As the legal battle 
reached its pitch, the city's comment on Sh31ingford*s 
leadership was to elect him Mayor for the third time at 
Michaelmas, 1447. 

In less than a year summer of 1447 to late spring of 1448 
the Mayor made seven journeys to London that we know 
about, and perhaps more. He was usually four days and 


nights on the road, stopping the second night at Shaftesbury 
and reaching the capital early on the morning of the fifth 
day. By hard riding, however, he managed on one occasion 
to cut a full day and night from this schedule. Over a span of 
eleven months these seven excursions three of them in late 
autumn or winter cost him almost two full months of riding 
the roads. 

Nor did he spare himself in London. He had to rise be- 
times; for business, even high affairs of state, began early. 
Men of ^worship' heard Mass in their private chapels by six 
or seven, depending on the season; humbler folk were stirring 
with the dawn. The city of Bristol, complaining to the King 
about the mischief one of his household men was committing, 
used the damning statement that *he lieth in his bed rill it be 
nine or ten at the bell daily, as well the holidays as the work- 
ing days, not attending divine service*. On a typical day in 
London, John Shfllingford first met with his lawyers, at Paul's 
cloister or at their chambers in the Temple; then he took boat 
to Lambeth to call upon the Chancellor at his episcopal pal- 
ace (the Chancellor being John Stafford, Archbishop of 
Canterbury); if no formal session was to be held that morn- 
ing and the Chancellor was too much pressed by affairs of 
state to spare a moment's talk, the Mayor took boat again to 
Westminster to keep his cause warm by chatting with Chief 
Justice Fortescue, KB, or Chief Justice Newton, CP. Perhaps 
he snatched a hasty dinner outside Westminster gate, where 
there were cook-shops galore and cooks crying 'hot pies'! 

In the afternoon the Mayor of Exeter took boat again to 
Lambeth in the hope of another word with the Chancellor. 
Then once more he went down river to the Temple for a final 
totting up of the day's accomplishments with his counsel 
Before he retired that nigfrt, or in the darkness of early morn- 
ing, propping himself in his bed to write, he composed a 
report to his aldermen. He commented on the progress of the 
suit, the latest tricks of his adversaries, the disposition of the 
Chancellor; then he gave orders for what was to be done at 
home. These missives display a feeling for scene, an unin- 
hibited self-revelation, a raciness of English, without parallel 
in any surviving documents produced before this time. 


John Shillingford was careful to season the rightness of 
his cause with due attention to the Lord Chancellor's palate. 
He heralded his coming in the summer of 1447 by sending 
Archbishop Stafford seven great conger eels, four hundred 
'buckhorn' (pilchards), and four crabs, which cost the city 
40s (something like <60 today), plus 8s to the carrier for 
delivering the sea-food to London. When Shillingford came 
up to the capital in the autumn, he learned, the very morning 
of his arrival, that the Chancellor had asked Chief Justice 
Fortescue to dinner that day to discuss the suit, 'saying that 
he should have a dish of saltfish'. 'Hearing this, I did as me 
thought ought to be done, and by advice of the Justice and 
of our counsel, sent thither that day two stately pickerel and 
two stately tenches.' It was a happy thought, because two of 
the greatest lords of the land, the Duke of Buckingham and 
the Marquess (soon to be Duke) of Suffolk descended on 
Lambeth for dinner, and Shillingford earned for himself a 
hearty thanks. 

Taking boat next morning to attend upon the Chancellor, 
the Mayor landed at Westminster Stairs as the bells of the 
palace clochard were ringing nine. Chance forced him to 
exercise his urbanity extempore. Just as he was mounting the 
steps, he 'met with my lord Chancellor at the broad door a 
little from the stair foot coming from the Star Chamber*. 
Bending his knee, Shillingford saluted *him in the most goodly 
wise that I could and recommended unto his good and gra- 
cious lordship my fellowship and all the commonalty of the city 
of Exeter. He said to the mayor two times "Welcome" and 
the third time, "Right welcome, Mayor", and held the Mayor 
a great while fast by the hand, and so went forth to his barge 
and with him great press, lords and other, etc. and in especial 
the Treasurer of the King's Household, with whom he was at 
right great privy communication*. But the scene was too ex- 
citing for Shillingford to maintain his recital in the third per- 
son 'And therefore I, Mayor, drew me apart, and met with 
him at his going into his barge, and there took my leave of 
him, saying these words, "My Lord, I will wait upon your 
good lordship and your better leisure at another time". He 


said to me again, "Mayor, I pray you heartily that ye do 

The Mayor waited no longer than the following morning, 
Sunday. About eight o'clock he arrived at Lambeth Palace 
with one of his counsel and his town clerk. They were ushered 
througjh the outer chamber, where lesser folk cooled their 
heels, and came into the inner chamber. Beyond lay the privy 
chamber or closet, really a bedroom, but even the King 
himself used his bedroom for private consultations. *We met 
and spoke with the Chancellor in the inner chamber, he at 
that time being right busy, going into his closet. And with 
right good language he excused himself that he might not 
speak with us at that time for great business, and commanded 
us to come again the morrow.' But John Shillingford did not 
mean to be put off so easily. % Mayor, prayed him of one 
word at that time and no more, saying that I was informed 
that he was displeased of my late coming, and if he were so, 
I besought him to hear mine excuse. He said "Nay"; but that 
I was come in right good time and welcome, and at his 
departing into his closet he said, **Mayor, would God ye had 
made a good end at home". And I said, 'Would God, my 
Lord, that we so had".* This sturdy answer made its impact; 
the Chancellor hesitated: 'he said, "Well, Mayor . . ." and 
bade me come again that same day afternoon'. 

Savouring the bustle of high office and the presence of the 
great, Shillingford provides the only intimate picture of a 
fifteenth-century English statesman at work. When he was 
ushered into the Chancellor's inner chamber that afternoon, 
he found 'much people, lords and other, my lord treasurer, 
under treasurer, the privy seal, and divers abbots and priors, 
and many strangers aliens of other lands. And then came in 
the Duke of Buckingham and there was great business at 
that time'. Almost everybody but the lords was bidden to 
leave the chamber, but the Mayor of Exeter did not budge. 
*I awaited my time and put me in press [i.e., made his way 
through the waiting line] and went right to my lord Chancel- 
lor and said, "My lord, I am come at your commandment, 
kit I see your great business is such that ye may not attend". 
He said No, by his troth, and that I might right well see. I 


said, Yea, and that I was sorry and had pity of his great vexa- 
tion.' John Shillingford might be only a provincial mayor, but 
he felt perfectly at ease rubbing shoulders with nobles and 
bishops and entirely confident of his savotr faire in the cham- 
ber of the Chancellor and Primate of England. 

When finally the Mayor and his counsel and the Bishop of 
Exeter's counsel were summoned to appear before the Chan- 
cellor and two Justices one afternoon, Shillingford hit off the 
scene in a sentence: *My lord took his chair and the justices 
sat with him, and both parties with their counsel kneeled 
before.' At another session it was the day Shillingford's ad- 
versaries brought with them a new man named Orcharde, *a 
great bear* the Chancellor was *right merry* and turning to 
the Mayor began recalling amusing experiences he himself 
had had in Exeter. Shillingford joined in, speaking to my 
lord hi disporf . The Chancellor was reminded of some po- 
litical high-jinks Tie could tell us how Germyn [former 
Mayor and at this time City Receiver] took the church the 
day of election, etc.' Shillingford had something good to add 
to that story: 'Germyn put his finger in his eye and wepf 
but, alas, we shall never know the point of it afl, for there is a 
hiatus in the manuscript 

When the Mayor came up to London in late January, 1448, 
he had to put off going to Lambeth until the Chancellor's 
buckhorn arrived from home. It finally came on February 
first, 'better late than never*, as he reported grumpily, and so 
on going to Lambeth the next morning, he took part in the 
Archbishop's celebration of Candlemas Day. That day I was 
with my lord at Mass, and offered my candle to my lord's 
blessed hand, I kneeling down offering my candle. My lord 
with laughing cheer said heartily, "Graunt mercy, Mayor". 
Bidden to stay to dinner, Shillingford met "with my lord at 
the high table end [of the great hafl] coming to meatward, 
and as soon as ever he saw me he took me fast by the hand 
and thanks enougjh too".' The Mayor modestly disclaimed 
the present of fish as too simple a thing considering his es- 
tate, but if I had been at home at this fair he should have had 
better stuff. I went forth with him to the midst of the hall, he 
standing in his estate [i.e., in formal style] against the fire a 


great while and two bishops, the two chief justices, and other 
lords, knights, and squires, and other common people great 
multitude, the hall full, all standing afar apart from him, I 
kneeling by him*. 

Yet, though John Shillingford employed the graces and 
enjoyed the drama of high place, he never forgot that he was 
Mayor of *a great commonalty* which was depending upon 
him to fight its battle. Urbane he might be, but when Chan- 
cellor or Justices started talking about concession, he turned 
hard as steel. 

At one session, when the ecclesiastical party continued to 
evade an answer to the city's complaints by talking vaguely 
of evidences and proofs, Snfliingford commented scornfully 
that though the suit was to be tried in London, they kept their 
'agreements home in the chapter house*, and he demanded 
that 'our articles should be answered before we proceed any 
further'. But the Chancellor and the Chief Justices, eager to 
avoid the onus of handing down a judgement, wanted to con- 
tinue looking for a compromise. The old Archbishop gently 
twitted Exeter's champion on a rather vulnerable claim the 
city advanced, the exuberance of which leaves little doubt 
that it was drafted by the Mayor himself. To show that Exeter 
antedated by far the Cathedral of St Peter, Shillingford had 
written that the 'city soon upon the Passion of Christ was 
by Vespasian besieged by time of eight days; the which ob- 
tained not the effect of his siege and so went forth to Bordeaux 
and from Bordeaux to Rome and from Rome to Jerusalem 
and there he with Titus besieged Jerusalem and obtained it 
and sold thirty Jews for a penny, as it appeareth by chronicles'. 

Shillingford stoutly answered that that was no matter of 
our complaints, but put in to prove what the city was of old 
time 5 . The Chancellor changed his tune then, saying 'some- 
what strangely and sharply that many of our articles were 
matter of noise [rumour] and slander, and to answer them 
would be cause of more grouching and 31-wiIl. And I said, 
"If any such be, let them be laid apart, and those that be 
sum and cause of all this debate, let them be so answered".* 

The two parties banged back and forth at each other, with 
the Chancellor and the Justices trying to interject a concilia- 


tory note. *I held my own.' When Archbishop Stafford com- 
mended the Mayor's good rule of the city while the suit was 
pending, Shillingford turned suddenly to one of his adver- 
saries, Canon Kys: *Kys, ye said to me at home that I did and 
said much thing more 5 than the Chancellor would approve of. 
'Say ye here before my lord what it was. My lord sat still 
awhile, and Kys kneeling spake never a word, and thus passed 

When the session concluded and the parties withdrew down 
the hall, 'the Chancellor asked wine and sent me his own cup 
and to no more. I went right to my lord again before them all, 
and spoke with my lord privily a great while of divers mat- 
ters'which doubtless caused his opponents a deal of heart- 
burning, for 'my lord at this time did me much worship*. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury's treatment of the Mayor 
betokens the importance of townsmen in this age, as his 
marked favour to the man indicates the impact of John 
Shillingford's personality. The Chancellor's friendliness also 
hints and Shillingford may have missed this of his uneasy 
desire to placate the party which, though it had the better 
cause, he could not quite bring himself to declare for, against 
the pull of his loyalty to a brother bishop and his realization 
that many towns, likewise doing battle with the Church, 
would be heartened by Exeter's victory. At this very moment, 
the citizens of Canterbury were plaguing him with their rights. 
Old John Stafford, Primate of England, was very much a 
man of his age. He had now been Chancellor through fifteen 
dismal years of King Henry's collapsing government He had 
done his best to keep the wheels turning, to hold a balance 
between factions. More a politician than a prelate, he was no 
inspiring man of God, as doubtless the Archbishop of Can- 
terbury should be, but a man of men, humane, mellow as old 
fruitcake, a peace-weaver in troublous times. When he re- 
signed the chancellorship two years later, as the kingdom 
began to quake, he almost alone of the court party had in- 
curred no popular odium. Perhaps he wore the purple without 
arrogance because he was not born to it, and looked kindly 
on sinners because he knew how sweet sin feels along a man's 
bones. A year before Shillingford first became Mayor, John 


Stafford had buried his mother under a handsome monu- 
ment in North Bradley (Wilts.) church. History records her 
only as 'Emma of North Bradley*, for John Stafford was the 
bastard son of a knight He had climbed the long way upward 
by his abilities, and somewhere along the wayaccording to 
Gascoigne who disliked him he had had a child by a nun. 

Neither the prelate's greatness nor the Mayor's inflexibility 
kept the two men from getting on famously. On a Sunday 
morning when they were talking 'in my lord's inner cham- 
ber 5 , Shillingford cheerfully remarked that as far as he knew, 
Bishop Lacy, *a blessed good man in himself if he must be', 
had no more knowledge of 'the ground of this matter than 
the image in the cloth of Arras there!' 

In talks with Chief Justice Sir John Fortescue, the Mayor 
yielded not an inch even to that famous lawyer. When 
Fortescue raised a point of ancient tenure in the Bishop's 
favour: *I said nay, and proved it by Domesday.' Fortescue 
pressed 'great arguments by long time*, alternating with ami- 
able suggestions as to compromises. But *all it was to tempt 
me with laughing cheer*. However reasonable some of For- 
tescue's proposals might be, John Shillingford would not 
abate a jot of his claims until he had consulted his constituents 
at home. 'It could seem if I did so that I had doubt of our 
right, where I have right none.* Fortescue replied, perhaps 
with a rueful smile, *Ye did thereon as a wise man'. 

At every stage of the proceedings in London, John Shilling- 
ford kept the chief citizens of Exeter fully informed and 
made sure of the city's support for every move. As soon as 
he and the lawyers had drawn up answers to the Bishop's bill 
of claims, he dispatched two copies of these answers to Exeter. 
One was to be pondered by Nicholas Radeford, the Recorder, 
who had a country seat near Exeter. The other copy he 
begged his aldermen to study diligently *and if anything be 
therein too much or too little', they were to amend it with afl 
the acumen they could muster. 'This done, I pray you to call 
before you at the hall the substance of the commonalty, 
praying every of them in my name and charging them in the 
most straitest wise to come before you in haste for the tid- 
ings that I have sent home to you; and that ye wisely declare 


before them these answers, so that they' give their voices man- 
fully 'yea and nay' and promise to 'abide by the answers in 
all wise'. Shillingford, who unlike his ecclesiastical opponent 
had to woo and enlighten where he would command, added 
prudently that in advance of the meeting the aldermen should 
work on the citizens individually to secure their approval. 

When the Bishop's party finally submitted a rejoinder to 
the city's articles, the Mayor dispatched a copy to Exeter, 
exhorting his fellows to bend their brains immediately to the 
problem of rebuttal, Vhich is dark to my conceit as yet; but 
I trust to God it shall be right well with your good informa- 
tion and help thereto. I can no more at this time, but I pray 
you to be not weary to overread all the writing that I have 
sent home to you; and if ye be, no marvel though I be weary, 
etc. and God be with you'. 

He kept his 'brethren' up to the mark. Receiving from 
them a missive chockful of reminders he did not need, he 
commented with some sarcasm *which letter in my simple 
conceit I in all things have well understood, and I am, and 
was before that letter, fully remembered of all things that is 
comprehended therein.' In fact, *ye and I communed thereof 
the last whole day of my being at home at Exeter in my par- 
lour. What is to do furthermore', he did not yet know, *but 
I must do as I can, may, and dare do, eschewing variance 
[quarrel], breech, throwing off, and indignations especially 9 . 

When the Mayor could not be in London himself, he kept 
up a steady pressure on the Chancellor by sending a deputy; 
and he armed that deputy with instructions as elaborate and 
precise, in their way, as any with which the King furnished 
bis ambassadors. On one occasion his agent, Richard Druefl, 
instead of using the instructions for private guidance, de- 
livered the document to the Chancellor himself. Doubtless 
he received a hearty dressing down, for the next time Druell 
was sent to London, the Mayor, ashamed of the 'simpleness 
of writing* of the paper, ordered his agent to beg the Chan- 
cellor to return it for your better instruction*. But he did not 
want Archbishop Stafford to suspect him of insincerity: 
'nevertheless, if my lord suppose any article comprehended 
therein be not true, it shall be proved true every point* 


When later Shillingford sent his Town Clerk to Westmin- 
ster, he had clearly been turning over in his mind the useful- 
ness of an indiscretion like DruelTs. He dispatched a detailed 
memorandum to the clerk with orders: 'This matter written 
in haste I pray you to understand well, and have it in your 
hand when ye speak with my Lord Chancellor. And when 
ye may, take a time to deliver it to him, saying that this was 
sent after you in great haste for your instruction.' Just so, 
at this time, did royal ambassadors sometimes carry instruc- 
tions ostensibly for their privy use but designed to be yielded 
with a show of reluctance, to the monarch they waited upon. 
By the next century most ambassadors went armed with two 
sets of instructions, only one of which was ever submitted 
for inspection. 

The Mayor carefully noted the hours of his departure 
from Exeter, of his arrival in London; he came to Westmin- 
ster 'at nine of the Bell*; he kept an appointment with the 
Chancellor promptly *at ten of the clock*. He enjoined dili- 
gence and accuracy on his fellows; he worked out for his 
deputies detailed accounts of what they were to do and say 
as well as analyses of the city's legal strategy and estimates 
of the opponents' position. When his deputies reported to 
him, they were likewise expected to picture then* activities in 
strict terms of hours. Though clocks were often located in 
churches and the hours were rung by church bell, God's time 
was giving way to man's time. 

The letters of John Shillingford best preserve the daily life 
of the age, however, when the mayor happily indulges in 
displays of personality, the like of which are not to be found 
before this time. On one of his trips to London, he was unable 
to call upon the Chancellor immediately because the all-im- 
portant present of buckhorn, which alderman Germyn was 
supposed to have shipped, had not yet arrived. 'And so,* he 
wrote home, in rueful irritation well seasoned with Shandyan 
humour, *I have help enough backward and but little forward, 
as it at all times proveth. I pray you specially to thank much 
gentle Germyn Quasi duceret euge euge Germyn of his gov- 
ernance at this time, id male gaude Germyn [gentle Germyn 
who will doubtless pat himself on the back for the way he's 


handling matters, the bungler!]. I know right well he will 
excuse himself by blaming this false harlot his carrier, and 
the carrier likewise by the said Germyn; and so I may say 
ait latro ad latronem [thieves stick together] and inter scabella 
duo anus labitur humo [between two stools arse falleth to 
the ground], Christ's curse have they both, and say ye amen 
non sine merito, and if ye dare not say so, tMnfr so, think so. 
Also I charge Germyn under rule and commandment of 
J. Coteler my lieutenant, that he do what he can, brawl, brag 
and brace, lie and swear well to, and in especial that the 
streets be right clean and specially the little lane in the back 
side beneath the flesh fold [cattle pen] gate, 

for there lieth many oxen heads and bones 

that they be removed away for the nones 

against my coming as soon as I may by cokkis bonys!' 1 

An even more arresting piece of self-revelation was 
prompted by Shillingford's discovery that in answering the 
city's complaint of clerical carousing in Bevys tavern, the 
Bishop's men had accused him of all manner of vices, 

They have spat out the utmost and worst venom that they 
could say or think by me; blessed be God it is neither felony, 
nor treason, nor great trespass. But as for truth of the matter 
that toucheth me, many worthy men stand on the same case 
and have done much worse than ever I did, though that be to 
me none excuse. As touching the great venom that they mean 
of my living, I may and purpose to be at my purge, as I may 
right well upon my soul, of all women alive except one, and 
of her right a great while; therefore, I take right naught by 
[I am untouched by then- slanders] and say sadly [earnestly] 
si recte vivas etc. and am right merry and fare right well, ever 
thanking God and my own purse. And I lying on my bed at 
the writing of this right early, merrily singing a merry song, 
and that is this, "Come no more at our house, come, come, 
come". I will not die nor for sorrow nor for anger, but be 

1 The mayor wrote the lines as prose; they have been rearranged to 
show his obvious intention of rhyming. *By cofckis bonys* by God* s 
bones is a vulgar oath, characteristic of the Host in the Canterbury 
Tales and used by the Mayor for humour and the rhyme. 


merry and fare right well, while I have money but that is 
and like to he scarce with me, considering the business and 
cost that I have had: and like to have: and yet I had with me 
20 and more by my troth. Wherefore, how that ever ye do, 
send me 20 in haste, as ye wish the speed of your matter 
and welfare of the city, I not shamed but pleased at this time; 
and see that ye fail in no wise, I marvelling much for as 
much as I departed from you without any money of yours 
that ye had not sent to me since some money by Germyn, 
Kyrton, or some other man.* 

John Shillingford found himself interesting and took for 
granted that his fellows found him interesting too. This vivid 
projection of a little ego-drama, the calculated range of tone 
from earnestness to comedy, and the whimsical anticlimax 
in the descent from confession to cash all smack of the post- 
mediaeval age of psychological awareness. When Shillingford 
writes, however exuberantly, of thirty Jews* heads sold for a 
penny, he is a child of the Middle Ages; but when he revels 
in himself, he is a father to the Elizabethans. 

Towards the end of 1447 the Lord Chancellor, still reluctant 
to hand down a formal judgement, persuaded both parties 
to have a try at reaching an agreement at home. Accordingly, 
on December 14 John Shillingford wrote to one of the 
Bishop's counsel, beginning his letter by amiably proposing 
that they get busy with negotiations. Then the true feelings 
of the man suddenly flashed out: the city's desire to make an 
end did not arise from any doubt of the justice of its cause, 
nor was 1, John Shillingford' growing timorous *for any 
dread of great words of malice, slanders, writings, to rebuke 
me and to make me dull to labour for the right that I am 
sworn to uphold; for truly I will not be so rebuked nor dulled, 
but the more boldlier will do my part as I am sworn to\ 
Yet he was never *the worse willed to all good communication 
and reasonable mean to make a good end, for with the grace 
of God I will be one man and the same man I have been*. 

On second thought, John Shillingford decided that this 
passage was hardly likely to promote sweet reasonableness 
at the treaty table; therefore, holding to his prime duty as a 
negotiator, he crossed it out and wrote simply, *Ye may fully 


conceive that my fellows and I would fain have peace, pray- 
ing you to apply your good win and favour to the same'. 

Bishop Lacy's answer was to summon Shillingford to his 
manor of Chudleigh, the message arriving only the evening 
before he was bidden to appear. The Mayor was not to be 
commanded so lightly. He sent a deputy armed with excuses, 
including the statement that *I standing mayor and of power, 
and yet having no power, may naught do, say, agree, nor 
assent without communication had with my fellowship, a 
commonalty which is hard to deal with*. 

As the great suit dragged on, feeling in Exeter grew bitterer. 
The Mayor's refusal to be overawed by the Bishop was an- 
swered, in the first months of 1448, by renewed scorn and 
defiance from ecclesiastical precincts. When the Assizes 
opened at Exeter, the Bishop's tenants, on pain of a forty 
shilling fine, were forbidden to take their turn at keeping 
watch and were told that, 'if any of the Mayor's officers en- 
tered into any tenement of the Bishop for to warn any man 
to come to tide watch, they should break his head'. Where- 
upon the outraged Mayor 'made right great wayward lan- 
guage to them'. Priests summoned before the city court re- 
fused to put in appearance. The clergy insisted on the release 
of one of the ecclesiastical tenants because he had work to 
do for the Bishop. The minstrel of another tenant 'made 
affray upon a woman and would have ravished her*. A priest 
stirred up a row, then took refuge in the church. Shfllingford 
minced no words in letting the Chancellor know the source 
of all the trouble: *now almost every man taketh colour by 
my lord Bishop.* 

The Bishop's men retorted that clerical life and limb was 
no longer safe because there were many wild and unreason- 
able fellows of the city of Exeter*. When William Speer, the 
Town Clerk, demanded of a cathedral chaplain what cause 
he had to use such language, the chaplain answered *with a 
high spirit' that some of the city Serjeants had declared *m 
William Gyfford's house in hearing of a priest that there 
should many a priest of the Close of Exeter lose his head on 
Midsummer Eve*. 

Suddenly one morning Shillingford's old friend Canon 


Roger Kys appeared with the news that he had been sent 
as the Bishop's deputy to sound out the Mayor's intentions. 
But who should know better than Edmund Lacy that prin- 
cipals deal only with principals? Shillingford replied to this 
insult by telling Kys flatly that he would enter into no dis- 
cussion with the Bishop by means of an intermediary. He 
knew right well, he reported to Archbishop Stafford, that 
the Bishop considered it infra dig., because of the Mayor's 
'simpleness and poverty*, to negotiate directly. 'Nevertheless, 
simple as he was, he was Mayor of Exeter,* and had been 
commanded by the Lord Chancellor to deal with the Bishop 
himself. 'Wherefore he would boldly take it upon him.' 

Bishop Lacy then tried a different tactic. At eight o'clock 
one morning, two of his officers rode into town to inform 
John Shillingford that the Bishop himself would arrive that 
same day at one P.M. to treat with the Mayor. At this news 
Shillingford was foul astonished and encombered'. He de- 
clared emphatically that it was not the Bishop's place to 
come to him, but the duty of the Mayor and aldermen to 
attend upon the Bishop, as they would be happy to do. 
He scented the trap at once: this was hasty process*, he 
bluntly told the Chancellor, 'and he conceived right well 
that it was done for to take him in a default*. Though show- 
ing contempt for the city by giving such off-hand notice, 
Lacy could pose as going to very humble lengths to reach 
an accommodation; and this is just what the Bishop did in 
a letter he afterwards wrote to the King. 

The messengers demanded an instant answer: his lordship 
would be on the way at any moment. Shillingford refused to 
treat under these circumstances and demanded two hours in 
which to consult his fellows. This reluctantly granted, the 
Mayor was able to report in an hour that the city magistrates 
would give the Bishop a hearty welcome and wait upon him 
at his command. 

So, when Edmund Lacy, Bishop of Exeter, arrived hi his 
cathedral city at evensong, he received a fitting reception 
from his 'ghostly children*. The Mayor and aldermen escorted 
him to St. Peter's church. 'When my lord had said his prayers 
at the high altar, he went apart to the side altar by himself 


and called to him the Mayor and no more.' There in the 
rich twilight of stained glass, amidst the haunting forms of 
arch and pillar, the old Bishop in his vestments of state, a 
breath of incense wafting from their folds, condescended to 
inform the Mayor of Exeter that, at the Chancellor's com- 
mandment, he had come to listen to what he had to say. 
Therefore, let the Mayor be about it and speak up. 

John Shillingford replied that his lordship need not have 
put himself out to ride to Exeter, *for if he had sent for the 
Mayor* and his fellows, 'they would have come to him, as 
their part was, with right good will'. Shillingford then asked 
the Bishop to assign an hour the next morning for a formal 

His lordship replied shortly that 'he might not tarry, but 
be gone anon*. 

'The Mayor said that he could not commune with him 
suddenly and with so short warning and by himself.' 

The Bishop 'said I should take whom that I would, there 
stood right enough about*. The haughty tone of Edmund 
Lacy drawls rigjht down the centuries; the words sketch the 
lordly movement of the episcopal hand as it indicates ShB- 
lingford's fellows skulking in the distance. 

The Mayor stood his ground: he needed time to consult 
and he reiterated his request for a meeting the next morning; 
'and so with much hardness, prayer, and instance it was 
granted at ten o'clock*. 

Promptly *at ten at the bell* the Mayor, aldermen, and 
their counsel presented themselves in the cathedral* Nothing 
came of the meeting. Edmund Lacy rode off haughtily on 
Monday morning. 

By the time the summer of 1448 was wearing away, John 
Shillingford realized that matters had reached an impasse 
dangerous for the city. Despite the pressure of his appeals 
by letter and in person, the Chancellor could not be brought 
to hand down a judgement. The Bishop was now pushing 
his damage suit and, in these circumstances, might well 
win it. And the city had spent a great deal of money, which 
apparently the citizens did not grudge in their hearts but 
must have felt in their purses. They had had to pay for 'many 


great ensearches, first in our treasury at home among full 
many great old records; afterwards at Westminster, first in 
the Chancery, in the Exchequer, in the Receipt, and in the 
Tower'. In addition to meeting the fees of their expensive 
London counsel and heavy travel expenses, the city had 
lined influential pockets 20s to the Sheriff of Devon, 6s 8d 
to one of his officers, 40s to that powerful courtier John 
Trevilian whom his many enemies called the 'Cornish 
Chough', tips to the Chief Justices' clerks, silver to cross 
numerous palms in the West Country and at London. Many 
more pounds dribbled away in fish and wine and game dis- 
patched to the City Recorder, Nicholas Radeford; wine was 
required to refresh the aldermen at numerous discussions; 
dinners and suppers in Exeter warmed the stomachs of 
influential Devonians; buckhorn for the Chancellor and stur- 
geon for the Justices cost a pretty penny. In our money the 
sum of it all must have amounted to some thousands of 

As John Shillingford's third term as mayor was running 
out, he and Bishop Lacy agreed to accept the arbitration 
of the two greatest lords of the region, Sir William Bonvile 
and Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, themselves bitter 
enemies but temporarily reconciled. They awarded to the 
Bishop a jurisdiction separate from that of the city, and 
town officers were forbidden to make arrests on Church ter- 
ritory. On the other hand, Bishop Lacy was required to re- 
linquish any damages he won hi his suit; his men could ar- 
rest no citizens within the fee; the Bishop's tenants were 
required to take their turn on the city watch and pay city 
taxes; the special charter Bishop Lacy had secured from the 
King was annulled; and the Mayor and his officers kept the 
right to bear their maces of office on cathedral ground. 

Not long after this award was given, John Shillingford 
died. He had not spared himself. During one of his talks 
with the Chancellor, *my lord conjured me to make an end 
of this matter and if I did so I should be chronicled'. The 
Mayor did better: he chronicled his age, his town, himself. 


TOWN government in England had never been democratic 
or fraternal or mild. But on occasion in the past the com- 
mons had joined with 'The Clothing', when towns were 
smaller and weaker, to fight the encroachments of lords or 
ecclesiastics. By the time of the Wars of the Roses, however, 
the great towns governed themselves under charter from the 
King and they were controlled by an oligarchy of money. 
Theoretically, every man enfranchised had an undefined right 
to participate in the election of the mayor and of the burgesses 
sent to Parliament. But the enterprising and ambitious had 
gathered the reins of power firmly into their hands. 

Yet some cities had at least an air of greater freedom than 
others: the average citizen was more vocal and made him- 
self more strongly felt, it appears, in York and Norwich and 
in some of the Cinque Ports than at Nottingham or Coventry. 

On a January day in York (1483) as a number of men 
were 'sitting at the ale at Eden Benys, in Gothyrngate*, 
somebody raised a lively question: 4 Sirs, whom shall we have 
to our mayor this year? 5 

One Steven Hoghson answered, *Sirs, one thing and it 
please the commons, I would we had Master Wrangwysh, 
for he is the man that my lord of Gloucester will do for*. 

Robert Rede, a *gyrdeler*, was quick to retort, That may 
not be, for the mayor must be chosen by the commonalty, 
and not by no lord*. It appears that he added, *My Lord of 
Gloucester will not be displeased whomsoever it pleases the 
commons to choose for their mayor*. 

Methods of election were often complicated and differed 


from town to town. In some places, a handful of citizens 
appointed by the mayor chose a larger body who in their 
turn nominated two men for the office of mayor, from whom 
the mayor and aldermen then made their selection. In other 
towns, the mayor and his brethren nominated two men for 
the choice of the citizens, the 'substantial citizens', that is. 
Worcester was governed by two bailiffs, one *high* chosen 
by Twenty-four of the great clothing', and one 'low* ap- 
pointed by the Forty-eight, or Common Council, who were 
supposed to represent the commonalty. Both bailiffs, in fact, 
were members of the 'great clothing'. However the machin- 
ery might be rigged, the oligarchy of wealth kept government 
firmly hi their hands. 

These men undoubtedly enjoyed power and, in many cases, 
probably arranged commercial favours and illegal concessions 
for themselves and their friends. On the other hand, they 
worked hard and their lot was sometimes dangerous as weU 
as thankless. Despite the perquisites of livery gowns and 
other allowances, mayors and aldermen not infrequently dis- 
bursed considerable sums of their money in upholding the 
dignity of their positions. Men who refused office were heav- 
ily fined or worse. In the Cinque ports, their houses were 
sometimes pulled down. When Stephen Fabyn, draper, elected 
Alderman of Bridge ward in London, refused to take the 
oath, protesting that he lacked the estate to maintain the 
dignity', he was promptly committed to Newgate prison until 
his assertion was proved. Men who sought, in advance, to 
be relieved of the duty of office-holding, whether for sickness 
or any other reason, were required to pay a composition of 
.5 or more, depending on then* wealth. 

Nothing was permitted to shadow the dignity of the mayor, 
visible emblem of the greatness of the city. Harry Butler, 
Recorder of Coventry, announced one day in a burst of 
self-inflation that he could commit the Mayor to prison if he 
wanted to. He was immediately put in his place with a heavy 
rebuke and maimed in his prestige by being required to walk 
in procession not directly after the Mayor but third in 
line. When an innkeeper was elected Mayor of Coventry, 
he was forced to remove his sign of business. A man who 


used ^unfitting language* against the mayor or his brethren 
was committed to prison until he was prepared to make a 
public submission, which meant going down on his knees 
before the mayor and abjectly begging for pardon, and then 
he had to pay a stiff fine and sometimes provide surety for 
good behaviour before he was released. Certain Bristol citi- 
zens of Irish extraction, led by Harry May, Vaunt parloure 
and chief labourer*, dared to bring suit before the Chancellor 
of England against the Mayor and council For this con- 
tempt of the city's dignity, Harry and all his fellows were 
deprived of then: franchise till they bought it again with the 
blood of their purses; and with weeping eyes, kneeling on 
their knees, besought the Mayor and brethren of their grace*. 
The magistrates of York ordained that any enfranchised man 
who was 'rebel henceforth to his mayor*, or made slighting 
remarks about city officers, or disclosed anything said by the 
mayor and his councillors in council, would pay a fine of 

In February of 1484, Thomas Wrangwysh, elected Mayor 
of York for the second time while he was at London repre- 
senting the city in Parliament, found when he reached 
Tadcaster on his journey homeward that the old Mayor and 
the aldermen and all the officers of York had ridden forth 
to bid him welcome. Other citizens came out to meet him as 
the parade moved toward the city and 'brought him wor- 
shipfully home to his own place 5 . But Hiomas set an example 
of scrupulous respect for his office by firmly refusing to al- 
low the sword or the mace to be borne before him: he had 
not yet taken his oath. 

The dignity hedging a mayor served the practical purpose 
of helping him to clamp a tight control over his little realm. 
Awe eked out inadequate policing; a severe tone and multi- 
plicity of regulations propped the status quo. Tbe Clothing* 
were not indifferent to justice but held that their first duty was 
to enforce obedience. Everybody knew that men needed mas- 
ters; order had to be imposed from above. The superiores, 
the oligarchy of enterprise and success, found then 1 right 
to rule in the law of nature. The hearts of men being wild 


and sinful, governors must rule hardily. Besides, the King was 
always looking. 

The town oligarchy solidly closed ranks in support of this 
system. The middling shopholder usually accepted it as in his 
best interests. But the swarming commonalty were by no 
means always content In the world of the countryside, a 
yeoman might offend against the custom of the manor but 
he never questioned it, for that custom went back to a time 
whereof no man remembereth*; and the Yorkist Age, though 
stirred by new currents, was still powerfully gripped by the 
force of the past But though submissiveness on the part 
of the town commons had long been a fact, it had never 
hardened into tradition. The humbler citizens nursed a day- 
dream that once all townsmen had been, if not equals at least 
brothers, and that the town corporation was a benefit held 
in trust for all Therefore the authoritarian demeanour of 
fifteenth-century mayors did not pass without challenge. More 
money circulated from purse to purse; men went more richly 
and more warmly clad than in previous centuries; and the 
gulf between rich and poor did not yawn so bleakly as it 
would under the Tudors. But during the Wars of the Roses, 
nevertheless, towns exhibited plenty of discontent 

Grumbling led to stirrings of rebellion: black looks, angry 
verses nailed on the church door, the cry of 'false harlof , 
rashly flung at mayor or alderman. Political dissatisfaction 
was usually exacerbated by economic discontents. Flattened 
under a pyramid of gfld rules and market regulations and 
town ordinances, the humbler citizens were likely to fed 
that they were kept down that others might rise. Rioting 
flared in Norwich and York and Coventry and Gloucester 
and other towns; the Gild of Tailors at Exeter waged a fierce 
battle throughout the reign of Edward IV against the domi- 
nation of the town aristocracy. 

All causes of discontent, all feelings of bitterness found 
their expression in the issue of the common lands which 
girdled cities in an expanse of open fields and enclosures 
and waste and woods. The right of each citizen to pasture 
animals on the town common was the most jealously watched 
of all municipal 'rights 5 . Resentment against the oligarchy's 


abuse of the privilege generated more violence than all other 
causes of discontent put together. A cow, a few sheep, often 
spelled for humble folk the difference between penury and 
decent subsistence. Perhaps even more poignant, pasture lands 
shared by all symbolized the dream of municipal fraternity. 
Each citizen of Coventry and York had, in theory at least, 
an equal 'stinf of common. At Launceston, richly endowed 
with common lands, the Mayor was permitted to pasture 
twelve animals; aldermen, ten; substantial citizens eight or 
six; ordinary citizens, four; and the rest of the enfranchised, 
two. Nottingham had a curious system of dividing its com- 
mon lands yearly among its burgesses, an arrangement that 
easily led to trouble. In 1480, the commonalty angrily refused 
to accept the partition proposed by the Mayor. 

No oligarchy held a tighter grip on its city than The Scar- 
let' of Coventry. A body of twenty-four potentiores, mostly 
former magistrates, chose the officers for the coming year; 
the mayor and the Twenty-four then selected another twenty- 
four to make up the council of Forty-eight, but the mayor 
was not obliged to consult the full council and usually made 
his decisions with the assistance of a small group of advisers. 
The town Leet, a legislative and judicial body which met 
twice a year, was composed of a jury of twenty-four, vir- 
tually identical with the twenty-four who elected the mayor 
and served on his council. The town government was beau- 
tifully self-perpetuating. Unlike the London oligarchy, con- 
stantly invigorated by new blood from the shires, certain 
families in Coventry held power decade after decade. 

For many years the commonalty had stirred restlessly un- 
der this rule. In the late fourteenth century citizens rose in 
their wrath against malpractices of powerful victuallers. Dur- 
ing the reign of Henry VI, popular discontents became 
focused upon the corrupt management of the common lands. 
The Clothing* and their friends nibbled away at these lands, 
enclosing a piece here and a piece there; and they 'surchaiiged* 
the municipal pastures (ie., exceeded their stint) wife sheep 
by the hundred. 

During the latter half of the fifteenth century, ill feeling 
flashed into angry protests and acts of violence. These tumults 


cast up into tbe light of history the only rebel against a Mayor 
whose cause and career still survive. Like many rebels in an 
ages, Laurence Saunders belonged to the class against which 
he fought He was a prosperous dyer, son of William Saun- 
ders, Mayor of Coventry in 1469, and therefore a member 
of The Clothing* who might look forward to an honourable 
career hi the governing of the city. We know him only 
through the records of his enemies, the town authorities 
against whom he did battle for the commonalty. They called 
him a headstrong, proud man who *would not otherwise be 
ruled than after his own waT. Fortunately, the Town Clerk 
recorded some of the petitions in which Laurence Saunders 
set forth the grievances of the commons and even noted 
satirical verses in which Saunders' adherents attacked the 
ruling oligarchy. 

In 1469 a man named Briscow overreached himself in his 
encroachments on Coventry Common, and the pent-up feel- 
ings of the townsmen exploded into violence. William Bris- 
cow, gentleman, owned lands adjoining the London road 
about a mile south of the city and just across the river Sher- 
bourne from common pastures. Briscow*s father had been 
Mayor of Coventry in 1428, but with the money John 
Briscow had won in trade, William, like many another mem- 
ber of his class, had chosen to withdraw from the city and 
live the life of the gentry. Briscow*s friends among The 
Clothing* had allowed him to enclose pieces of land on the 
edge of common fields and to pasture flocks of sheep in 
the fields themselves. In 1469, however, he carried his pre- 
sumption too far by building a wall which obstructed the 
river. Angry citizens sallied from the gates and pulled the 
wall down. Briscow made the mistake of suing for trespass 
in the county courts. 

This piece of ingratitude united, for once, the oligarchy, 
and the commonalty. The Mayor and his brethren immedi- 
ately Remembered* Briscow*s illegal enclosures and use of 
Coventry Common. On Monday, November 30, with the 
Mayor himself riding at then* head, some five hundred citi- 
zens issued from the town, arrayed in jacks and sallets and 
brandishing a variety of weapons including mattocks, spades, 

[1] Edward IV (from the Windsor Collection. Reproduced by 
gracious permission of H. M. the Queen). 

[2] at right, Stone 
mason and car- 
penter proving 
their skill before 
the Gild Master 
(B. M. Roy. 
15E II f . 265- 
Flemish, late 
15th century). 

[3] below, Public 
execution (B. M. 
Harl. 4379 f. 64, 
from Froissarfs 

[4] above, Pilgrims leaving Canterbury. One of the pilgrims is 
supposed to be John Lydgate, monk of Bury St. Edmunds and 
author of The Life of St. Edmund (B. M. Roy. 18D II f. 148). 

[5] below, Thaxted Gild Hall (C.O.I.) (D52512). 

[7] The new mayor of Bristol takes the oath of office 
(from Ricarfs The Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar, Cor- 
poration of Bristol) . 



C o 


t -*-y C3 l/ > *L>Vr ~ ' cy*.***^*. ; /in 







4tes according to Briscow's petition to the King. TTiey 
smashed Briscow's gates and hedges, cut down several great 
*aks, carried away wood, clay and gravel and 'riotously de- 
itroyed two swans nests'. At the command of the Mayor, 
an alderman summoned the Waits' of the city to play tri- 
umphal airs and bawl impromptu ballads 'in rehearsing of 
their said riots, and like as they had done a great conquest 
or victory'. The Mayor 'made them pipe and sing before the 
said rioters all the way to the city, a space of a large mile or 
more*. Soon after, the taverns were full of men 'avaunting 
and rehearsing of their great riot, saying that if your said 
beseecher sued any person that they would slay him'. 

Encouraged by this success, citizens poured from the city 
a week later, on St. Nicholas' day (December 6), which 
opened the season of merriment and licence. This time they 
threw down hedges and trampled enclosures which the Priory 
of Coventry had erected on the edge of the Prior's Waste, 
land the city claimed as its own. Prior Deram was a much 
more powerful man than William Briscow, and when he let 
the city fathers know in vigorous language that he meant 
to bring suit for this outrage, 'The Clothing 9 quickly decided 
that the commonalty had been allowed to go too far. The 
Prior was bought off with certain pieces of disputed property. 
In order to give this concession an appearance of popular 
consent, the city fathers secured the express approval of 216 
substantial citizens. 

Laurence Saunders, whose father was then Mayor, signed 
among the 'approvers', his first appearance in the city records. 
Perhaps he was too young to protest. By the time a decade 
had passed, he had either changed his mind or considered 
himself strong enough to show his true sympathies. 

He chose to strike for the commons in 1480, when he had 
just started up the ladder of preferment by being elected 
one of the two chamberlains of the city for that year. The 
chamberlains had charge of the city walls and therefore col- 
lected murage dues, and they supervised the common lands. 
They were required to *pin in pinfolds* all sheep and other 
animals pastured in excess of the permitted stint, taking 4d 
for each score of sheep pinned. 


One Saturday in the spring, Laurence Saunders and Whv 
Ham Hede, chamberlains, refused to disburse the wages oi 
workmen who had been hired to quarry stone for the repair 
of the city walls. Laurence declared 'presumptuously' that 
they that set them a-work should pay for them'. The Mayor 
clapped the chamberlains into prison. Hede soon made hum- 
ble submission to the authorities, declaring that he had been 
led into his iniquitous ways only at Saunders 5 urging. At first 
sight, Laurence's refusal to pay the workmen seems to bear 
little relation to the grievances of the commonalty; but 
murage dues weighed heavily upon the humbler citizens, and 
the tax was the bitterer because the wealthy Prior of Cov- 
entry, though many a yard of his land marched along the 
walls, had refused for years to pay a penny. 

Besides, this is the official version of Laurence Saunders* 
first rebellion. Laurence himself declared that he had been 
imprisoned by the Mayor because he fulfilled his sworn 
duty: he had been impounding all cattle which 'The Clothing* 
were pasturing in excess of their stint When, on April 8, he 
pinned 200 sheep belonging to William Deister and refused 
to unpin them at the Mayor's command, he was clapped into 
jail and Will Deister got his animals back without having to 
pay a penny. What was worse, Laurence had no chance to 
defend himself in public or to pry open the whole question 
of privileged abuse of common pasture. The Easter Leet 
met on April 10. Laurence had powerful friends, even among 
the oligarchy, and they tried hard to free him; but the Re- 
corder of Coventry, Harry Butler, had no intention of per- 
mitting Laurence to raise a rumpus in court, and he was not 
released until the afternoon of the llth. A week later the 
Recorder bound the Chamberlains by recognizances of <10 
apiece to 'obey the mayor's commandments in right or wrong*. 
On May 24, the Mayor fined Saunders and Hede ,10, of 
which -6 was forgiven. But when Laurence demanded to 
be quit of his recognizance, the Recorder snarled that he 
*should not be released thereof for the best piece of scarlet 
in England*. 

Laurence had not learnt his lesson. AH summer he went on 
impounding animals: 400 sheep belonging to the Prior; 


400 belonging to Will Briscow; 300 more of the Prior's on 
still another day; 180 belonging to Robert Beveys. But the 
Mayor and Recorder released all the sheep, took not a single 
fine, and ordered Laurence to desist from his unwelcome 
officiousness. The indignant chamberlain declared that up to 
1,000 sheep were illegally grazing on the common because 
their owners were 'maintained' by the Mayor and Recorder; 
he added that several fields now enclosed were, in fact, com- 
mon lands. The Recorder furiously rejoined 'that he would 
make the said chamberlain to curse the time that ever he 
saw him and would make him to weep water with his eyes. 
And for to be revenged upon him, he said he would ride to 
complain about him unto our sovereign lord the King*. 

But Laurence, ever the man of action, rode first. Securing 
permission from the Mayor to go to Southampton on private 
business, he took horse on September 20 and galloped off to 
Ludlow Castle to lay his charges against the oligarchy of 
Coventry before the Council of little Prince Edward, son and 
heir to Edward IV. 1 

On September 30 the Prince's Council ordered the city 
authorities to send a 'discreet person* to Ludlow to present 
their side of the story. The Mayor replied angrily on October 
3 that no trouble existed which could not easily be settled 
'amongst ourself*. He lashed out against the hasty, sinister 
and seducious suggestion and labour made by Laurence Saun- 
ders against the will of the governors of this your city'. Saun- 
ders was a subversive fellow who had *openly disobeyed me 
and the rule of this city and by his power would induce com- 
motion amongst the people'. William Shaw underlined this 
telling point: *he would subdue us all if he might get assistance, 
to the worst example that ever was here.* The Mayor then 
sent off an imposing embassy of eighteen persons headed 
by Harry Butler, the Recorder, and John Thrumpton, Master 
of Holy Trinity Gild. They travelled in style, with a har- 
binger to ride ahead and provide lodgings, a cook to oversee 
the preparation of their meals, and twenty-eight servants. Wil- 

1 Laurence directed himself to Ludlow because the Borough of Coven- 
try had once been an appendage of the Earldom of Chester. As Earl of 
Chester, Prince Edward might be regarded as the suzerain of the town; 
and he was, furthermore, the nominal head of the CouncS of Wales. 


liam Hede was included in the party to show how a good 
man could go wrong under Laurence's sinister influence. 

After hearing the evidence of both sides, the Prince's Coun- 
cil made its decision on October 27. Laurence's proof of false 
dealing in the common lands could not be ignored: the Coun- 
cil ordered a full investigation and required the city govern- 
ment to pay such fines as were owing to the chamberlains. 
But however just may have been his complaint, 'the said 
Laurence' had acknowledged before the Council his 'obstinacy 
and disobedience to you Mayor, Recorder, and others hav- 
ing the rule of the said city*, and therefore he was to be 'cor- 
rected and punished after his desert*. The commons of Cov- 
entry were commanded to eschew 'all unlawful assemblies' 
and use of violence. 

The Prince's Council sent along a gentleman to see that 
the rebellious chamberlain showed himself properly penitent 
In St Mary's Hall, before the scarlet-gowned superiores 
and a silent array of commons, Laurence Saunders pushed 
his knees to the floor and humbly offered himself for cor- 
rection. He was committed to prison. To regain his freedom, 
he had to bind himself in the enormous sum of 500 to ap- 
pear at the next general sessions of the court and in the mean- 
time to *be of good bearing against the said Mayor'. This 
recognizance, the breaking of which would mean ruin, was 
to be continued from session to session till the rulers of the 
city were convinced that Laurence had had a genuine change 
of heart. As a last artful flick of the whip, he was required 
to pay the 15 11s lljd that the Coventry delegation had 
spent on their jaunt to Ludlow. 

For the moment Laurence himself had to lie low, but the 
blow he struck had shaken the city. The commonalty sorely 
grudged the treatment which had been meted out to their 
champion; the fraudulent dealings in common lands which 
he had brought to light sparked a blaze of anger. On Lammas 
Day the following year (August 1, 1481 ), 2 a mob smashed 
into Briscow's illegal enclosures. Old Harry Butler, sick 

*Many of the Coventry pastures were 'common' only from Lammas 
Day, August 1, until Candlemas, February 2; on August 1 the citizens 
made a ceremony of 'throwing down the fences' of 'Lammas lands*. 


though he was, rode out to quell the riot. One John Tyler, 
who gave the Recorder a piece of his tongue, was forthwith 
committed to prison. On the Trinity Gild feast day, Decol- 
lation of St. John the Baptist (August 29), a swarm of citi- 
zens ruined the ceremony of their betters by ringing the com- 
mon bell and making a vain attempt to rescue Tyler. The 
riot succeeded in embarrassing the authorities; for the King, 
quickly apprised of the outbreak, fired off an angry privy 
seal to rebuke the Mayor for failing to keep order and to 
command the incarceration of ring-leaders at Ludlow until 
the following Easter. But the city buzzed with "conventicles' 
and 'conspiracies', which all the diligence of the potentiores 
could not suppress. Matters grew so bad that in April of 1482 
Edward IV dispatched another privy seal to reprimand the 
authorities for their slackness. Apparently Laurence Saunders 
and his friends had won so much backing, even among the 
oligarchy, that the Mayor dared not act vigorously. 3 

So far, no mention of Laurence Saunders himself; he had 
been biding his time. Hobbled by his recognizance and at- 
tempting politic means, he now laid before the Mayor and 
council a list of meadows illegally enclosed. The rulers of 
Coventry condescended to explain to their adversary why 
these enclosures had been permitted; and they even 'made 
him privy to the evidence of the city on this behalf. Laurence, 
not to be fobbed off so easily, asked for a copy of this evi- 
dence *to show to certain people as he should please' proba- 
bly old men among his following who would know if these 
evidences were valid. When he was harshly refused, he 
burst out against his enemies, demanded to be discharged 
of the recognizance which made him a slave to the Mayor's 
will and threatened that, if they would not discharge him, 
*he would find the means to be discharged'. 

The Mayor and his brethren held their fire until certain 
lords of the Prince's Council appeared in Coventry the Sat- 
urday before All Hallows' Day (October 26). With their 
full approval, the Mayor clapped Laurence Saunders into 
prison, where he remained until the Sunday after All Hallows. 

8 The privy seal declared that the rebellious elements were 'supported 
and favoured by divers persons having rule in the city*. 


Then, 'by great instance made by his friends', he agreed 
before the Ludlow lords to seal a 'statute merchant' of 200 
to obey the Mayor; and four of his adherents were bound in 
the crippling sum of <100 as surety for his good behaviour. 
When Laurence was finally released, the lords of the Prince's 
Council gave him a stiff warning: this was the second time 
he had been gaoled for disobeying his superiors and raising 
commotions among the people; 'they therefore bade him be- 
ware, for if he came a third time hi ward for such matters, 
it should cost him his head etc.' 

For twelve long years Laurence Saunders managed to re- 
main silent. As he grew old in bitterness, his worldly affairs 
decayed. Fines and sureties had taken their toll; the wealthy 
cloth dealers of the city undoubtedly sent their dyeing busi- 
ness elsewhere; and probably Laurence, brooding over his 
injuries and the unredressed grievances of the commons, had 
little heart for making money. He remained the hero of the 
commonalty; for in these years the oligarchy tightened its 
grip on the life of the city and discontents simmered. Hum- 
ble cloth-sellers could no longer vend their wares in the 
porch of St. Michael's Church; they were required to sell in 
the Drapery, a building owned by the all-powerful Holy 
Trinity Gild, where they had to pay stallage and where 
searchers appointed by the Drapers closely scrutinized their 
wares. Wool must be sold at the Wool Hall, and the city 
charged a fee for weighing which drove up the price weavers 
had to pay for their raw material. An ordinance requiring 
all apprentices to be enrolled in the city registers and pay 
13d was likewise deeply resented; for if a small shopholder 
wanted a likely lad who was penniless he had to find the 
money out of his own pocket, and besides such a regulation 
demeaned the dignity of his gild. There was so much grum- 
bling against this measure that all those caught in evasion 
were required to give surety of good behaviour. The makers 
of pewter ware and the Tanners, perhaps because they showed 
signs of defiance, were hauled into the Leet court on charges 
of fraudulent dealing. 

By Lammas Day of 1494-the day that symbolized all his 
defeats Laurence Saunders could keep quiet no longer. Some 


forty men were in the street when William Butler, perhaps 
a son of Laurence's old enemy the Recorder, now deceased, 
drove by with a cartload of oats. 

Laurence suddenly cried out, 'Sirs, hear me! We shall 
never have our right till we have stricken off the heads of 
three or four of these churls that rule us!' He appealed to the 
crowd to band together against the oppressors If thereafter 
it be asked who did that deed, it shall be said, "Me and they 
and they and me!" * 

Having fared his hearers, he forced Butler to drive the cart 
into the Crosscheping the market-place and there made him 
dump the oats in the street 'Come, sirs!' he shouted to the 
crowd. Take this corn, who so will, as your own!* Then he 
committed William Butler to prison. The oats had probably 
been grown on land wrongfully enclosed, or Butler had il- 
legally forestalled them at the gates. 

The rulers of the city did not act for six weeks, perhaps 
alarmed by the spectre of rioting and daunted by Laurence 
Saunders' popularity. Then, on September 17, they once 
again thrust him into gaol and there he remained until he 
found sureties for the fine of <40 that was levied against 
him. In the Easter Leet of 1495, The Clothing* expelled 
the rebel from then* midst: Laurence Saunders was hence- 
forth forbidden ever to ride with the chamberlains on Lam- 
mas Day, on pain of losing his 40, and he was 'discharged 
from the mayor's common council, and all other councils 
hereafter to be taken and kept within this city for the wel- 
fare of the same'. 

The commonalty seethed: the one man who dared to speak 
out for them, even though he wore the livery of both the 
Holy Trinity Gild and the Corpus Christi Gild, had been 
disgraced and put to ransom as if he were an enemy Scot 
Eight days after Lammas of 1495, buzzing crowds gathered 
before the north door of St. Michael's Church. 'Some evil 
disposed persons unknown' in the Town Clerk's view had 
nailed up verses that spoke for them all: 

Be it known and understand 

This City should be free and now is bond 


Dame Godiva made it free; 

And now the custom for wool and the Drapery. 

Also it is made that no 'prentices shall be 
But xiii pennies pay should he. 

And now another rule ye do make 

That none shall ride at Lammas but they that ye take. 

When our ale is tunned 

Ye shall have drink to your cake. 

Ye have put one man like a Scot to ransom. 

That will be remembered when ye have all forgotten. 


Feeling the ground shake beneath their feet, 'The Clothing* 
decided to move cautiously. John Dove, elected Mayor in 
1496, appears to have been a timid man. The city decided 
to forgive Laurence Saunders 20 of his 40 fine; his 
sureties paid half of the remainder. But the wrongs he had 
suffered and the grievances of the commonalty clamoured 
in his ears, and age had not withered him into prudence. He 
and his friends found a way to the Bishop of Rochester, a 
member of the King's Council. Forgetting what he had learned 
years ago about the trust that could be put in princes, 
Laurence appealed to King Henry VH. Early in 1496 the 
Mayor was requested, by privy seal, to forgo the remaining 
10 of Laurence Saunders* fine and was ordered to do jus- 
tice 'in the variance as touching the common [lands] which 
the said Laurence had informed the King's Grace to be in 
this city\ While Mayor Dove squirmed and wondered what 
to do, Laurence Saunders boldly came to his house one day 
in early summer. 

'Master Mayor*, said the old rebel, *I advise you to look 
wisely on yourself, for ere Lammas Day ye shall hear other 
tidings. And many of these caitiffs that look so high now 
shall be brought lower. And ye know well, amongst you 
ye have of mine 10 of money which I doubt not I shall 
have again ere Lammas Day, or else three or four of the 
best of you shall smart.* Laurence then gave the Mayor a 


nasty parting shot: 'Therefore I advise you, bear upright the 
sword, at your peril; for ye shall know more shortly.' The 
sting in the reference to the sword was that Richard II had 
once ordered a mayor of Coventry to have his sword borne 
behind him because he had failed to do justice. 

Despite this ghastly blow to his dignity, Mayor Dove did 
not dare commit Saunders to prison. Instead he addressed a 
frantic appeal to the city Recorder, none other than the in- 
famous Richard Empson, the King's extortioner who enriched 
the treasury and his own purse by all manner of quasi-legal 
frauds. While Laurence's party and the oligarchy waited 
for word from Westminster, the incorrigible rebel struck 
again. On July 20 he strode into the 'gaol-hall' where the 
Mayor and his brethren were sitting in their pomp as judges. 
'And then and there the said Laurence before a great audi- 
ence said, "Master Mayor, I have brought you a bill here. 
I pray you it may be read openly in this court".' Finally the 
Mayor found his tongue and replied that the matter required 
no such haste; Saunders would be given *a reasonable an- 
swer' the next day at nine of the clock in private, of course. 
The Mayor and his brethren knew very wefl that the *bfll' 
listed fields and pastures wrongfully withheld from the com- 
mon lands. 

As he departed, Laurence could not resist taunting the 
Mayor in public. 'Master Mayor,* he called derisively, *hold 
upright your sword. 9 To show that he had no fear of Richard 
Empson's influence at court, he added, 'As for Master Re- 
corder, I have reckoned with him, before the King, and he 
shall be easy enough'. 

But Laurence, as usual, was too sanguine. The anxiously 
awaited privy seal from Henry Vn announced that the city 
might dispose of the case as it saw fit. At once an exorbitant 
surety for good behaviour was demanded of Laurence Saun- 
ders. He passionately refused, for he would be caught hi 
no more golden traps nor jeopardize his adherents, and be- 
sides, he had little money left Once again, he was clapped 
in gaol. Once again, he and his friends made an appeal to 
the Bishop of Rochester. 

The Bishop requested the Mayor to put Saunders under 



surety so that he might appear before the King's Council at 
Woodstock and air his charges. Laurence offered a sum 
which the Mayor refused. The prisoner declared furiously 
that 'he would find no other, whatsoever fell. Wherefore 
he remained still in prison'. A few days later, two poems 
blossomed on the cathedral door: 

You have hunted the hare, 
You hold him in a snare; 

Ye that be of might, 
See that ye do right, 

For where that ye do 
wrong, Ye shall mend it 

Little small been [bees], 
That all about fleen, 

Where they light, 
The been will bite, 

Look that ye do right. 
Both day and night, 

Both early and late, 
Keep well your pate- 

It had been as good nay 

Think on your oath. 

Though ye be never so 

They wag their wing. 

And also sting, 

Beware of wappys [wasps]. 

For after-clappys [dire con- 

The second set of verses struck the chord sounded by the 
satiric poem of the year before: 

The city is bond that should be free. 
The right is held from the commonalty. 

Our Commons that at Lammas open should be cast 
They be closed in and hedged full fast 

And he that speaketh for our right is in the hall [gaol], 
And that is shame for you and for us all. 

You cannot deny it but he is your brother; 

And to both Gilds he hath paid as much as another. 


For any favour or friendship the commons with you find, 
[Ye] pick away our thrift and make us all blind. 

And [if] ever ye have need to the Commonalty, 
Such favour as ye show us, such shall ye see. 

We may speak fair and bid you good morrow, 
But love with our hearts shall ye have none. 

Cherish the Commonalty and see they have their right 
For dread of a worse chance by day or by night. 

The best of you all little worth should be 
And ye had not help of the Commonalty. 

Through the rest of the summer and into autumn, Lau- 
rence Saunders, lying in gaol, continued to send appeals to 
the King's Council. Finally on November 10, two privy seals 
arrived. One directed the Mayor to take surety of Laurence 
Saunders hi 100 and release hini from prison so that he 
might confront, before the Royal Council, a delegation sent 
by the city; the second order permitted six of Laurence's 
friends to appear as his witnesses. Doubtless the old rebel was 
jubilant as he rode to London. What he received was a full 

From Friday, November 18, until the following Tuesday, 
the Royal Council, including the Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, the Bishops of London and Rochester, the Chief Jus- 
tice, and many other lords, listened to the complaint of Lau- 
rence Saunders, the answer made by the representatives of 
the city, 'the replication of the said Laurence and the re- 
joinder thereupon'. Order, as usual, was preferred before 
justice. At the conclusion of the hearing, Laurence was com- 
mitted to Fleet Prison, 'there to abide until the King's pleas- 
ure was known what further punishment he should have*. 
As the gates of the prison closed upon him, the one great 
rebel against town oligarchy of the fifteenth century disap- 
pears from history. He had not acted wisely but he had 
played out his game dauntlessly to the end. And even in his 
old age he kept a green heart 


LONDON had long called itself the King's Chamber, but for 
the Yorkist monarchs London was the touchstone of fortune 
as well as the first jewel of their crown. Edward IV wooed 
the city like a lover (and the city wives), shaped his policy 
with a delicate ear to its interests, honoured its officers, and 
traded by the side of its merchants. 

During the Wars of the Roses, London was fast becom- 
ing the magnet of ambitious young men from all the coun- 
ties of the realm. It was girdled by some of the most fertile 
lands in the kingdom. Highways converging on the capital 
channelled a swelling stream of goods to and from the city 
marts. The broad estuary of the Thames enticed the traffic of 
the seas. To foreigners, London blazed on the far western 
perimeter of civilization, the metropolis of the oceans. If 
Rome was the grandest and Venice the most romantic and 
Paris the largest of cities, travellers declared that London 
was the most enterprising and busiest, and marvelled to find 
it so lovely. A Milanese ambassador reported that the Eng- 
lish capital was the 'wealthiest city in Christendom'. The Duke 
of Milan was further informed, in March of 1461 when the 
Yorkists had just entered the city, that Edward IV and War- 
wick would probably triumph over the House of Lancaster 
because they were backed by the Londoners, whose support 
meant everything. 

These Londoners were 'by birth for the most part a mixture 
of aU countries of [England]; by blood, gentlemen, yeomen 
and of the basest sort; and by profession, busy bees in the hive 
of this commonwealth'. It was a filthy, crowded, clamorous, 


opulent hive. Narrow streets ran all hugger-mugger, dark- 
ened by the leaning upper storeys of gilt and gabled houses. 
Towered gates and fine facades of stone and tenements lean- 
ing askew and shops overflowing with goods took the visitor's 
eye. Erasmus, a few years after this time, permitted himself 
to be appalled by the stench and dirt; but his nose, it must 
be remembered, had been thrown somewhat out of joint 
by his failure to find preferment and by an unfortunate ar- 
gument with the royal customs which left him 20 the 
poorer. Yet, duty the city certainly was, despite systematic 
efforts to combat the airy attitude of the inhabitants toward 
household rubbish and casual filth. 

Italian visitors, accustomed to then* sharply defined cities 
of stone, found the place an architectural hodge-podge. They 
thought the houses quaint and crazy, comfortable and often 
splendid on the inside with amazing depositories for wares, 
but built every-which-way as fancy and convenience dictated 
houses with ground floor of stone supporting carved beams 
and 'pentices*; houses of half timber and whitewashed plaster; 
here and there a building of brick, the tented roof of a great 
hall, or an imposing municipal edifice with massive 'quad- 
rant' like the Leadenhall. Lords and their liveried retinues 
inhabited spacious dwellings with courtyards and gardens. 
A hundred churches thrust their steeples into the London 
sky. Yet the dominant tone of London was sounded by busi- 
ness enterprise. 'Whatever there is in the city,* reported 
Dominic Mancini, 'it all belongs to craftsmen and merchants.* 

The town embraced the river and crown of the river the 
Bridge. Land-bound Italians marvelled at the tides which 
coasted ships up to the heart of London and swiftly dropped 
them down again to the sea. The river and the town lived 
together like Venice and the Adriatic. A courtier in the reign 
of Queen Mary one day haughtily informed an alderman 
that the Queen 'in her displeasure against London had ap- 
pointed to remove with the Parliament and Term [law courts] 
to Oxford. This plain man demanded, whether she meant 
also to divert the river of Thames from London, or no? and 
when the Gentleman had answered no, then, quoth the alder- 


man, by God's grace we shall do well enough at London, 
whatsoever become of the Term and Parliament'. 

Strangers bound for the English capital sailed up the 
Thames or rode through the thrifty enclosures of Kent. Com- 
ing from Calais, they crossed the Channel in a few hours 
if the wind was fair and no Breton pirates showed sail. Land- 
ing at Dover or Sandwich, they rode to Canterbury to spend 
the first night and visit the tomb of St. Thomas & Becket, 
called by many the richest shrine in Christendom. The glitter 
of gold and precious stones was dominated by a great 
ruby, the Regal of France, which one day Henry VIII would 
wear upon his thumb. The second night was usually spent 
at Rochester. By midmorning of the third day, travellers 
were crossing Blackheath, where the remains of Jack Cade's 
great camp could still be seen. From the top of Shooter's 
Hill they caught their first sight of London lying along the 
river on a green breast of land that merged into the blue hills 
of Hampstead and Highgate. 

If the visitors sailed up the Thames, they could see at 
Tilbury carracks of Genoa or other large ships, their cargo 
being unloaded into lighters. Occasionally, porpoises or even 
whales might appear, for two whales are recorded as disport- 
ing themselves only a little below Woolwich. The first view 
of London was sometimes gruesome. Between St. Catherine's 
and Wapping, pirates were hanged on short gallows at the 
low-water mark and left to remain until three tides had over- 
flowed their bodies. To the right rose the chalky pinnacles of 
the Tower, while dead ahead could be seen the Bridge, one 
of the wonders of the world. Nineteen arches of shining white 
stone, broken by a drawbridge, supported a London street 
of shops and houses. 

Hundreds of small boats plied up and down and across 
the river like restless water bugs. The fare was a penny; but 
in wet weather one could take a 'tilt boat' (a tented or cov- 
ered boat) for 2d. Men impatient to cross the river stood on 
the many public stairs crying, Wagge! wagge! go we hence!' 
The richer the gown and the lordlier the manner, the better 
the service. Thomas Hoccleve confesses in .one of his poems 
that in his misspent youth he thoroughly enjoyed being 'tugged 


to and fro' by watermen eager for his patronage because 
they knew he was good for a big tip. These boatmen were 
a tough lot. When the Lancastrian Lord Scales tried to slip 
away from the Tower under cover of darkness in July, 
1460 they swiftly overtook his craft, murdered the unpopu- 
lar lord who had .been shooting guns against the city, and 
cast him on the steps of St. Mary Overy 'naked as a worm*. 
Not even the Mayor was safe from then: irreverent tongues. 
In 1453 John Norman felt himself too old for the traditional 
ride to Westminster, where mayors took their oath of office 
before barons of the exchequer, and so he began the custom 
of going by water. The boatmen at once made a song for 
him 'Row, Norman, row to thy leman [lover]. 9 

Among the small boats, the barges of the great glided west- 
ward to Westminster or down to Greenwich, floating caravans 
of carved wood and gilding, gay with banners and liveries 
of the oarsmen and velvet gowns. All over the river lay the 
traffic of the seas. A forest of masts and tackle bristled along 
the bank. Great cranes amazing to the Italiansswung bales 
from ship to wharf. From the Tower to Blackfriars stretched 
quays and warehouses, broken by the battlements of Baynard's 
castle and the great stone bulk of the Steelyard, home of the 
Easterling traders. 

But the visitor's gaze always came back to the Bridge. It 
was grander and longer than the Rialto, the Ponte Vecchio, 
the Pont Neuf. At the north and south ends stood stone 
towers with portcullises, often topped by a row of traitors* 
heads shredding in the rains. The drawbridge was worked 
from a third towered gate hi the middle. Ship-traffic had be- 
come so heavy that after 1481 the drawbridge was raised no 
more; and the market carts from Kent, banging over the pav- 
ing with iron-tyred wheels, did such damage that all 'shod 
carts' had to be forbidden. The Bridge was looked after by 
two wardens, who had at their disposal rents and gifts totalling 
several hundred pounds yearly. Still, the roadway was so 
pitted, in 1460, that when a mass of citizens were escorting 
the army of the Earl of Warwick into the city, several men- 
at-arms stumbled and fell, and, prisoned in heavy armour 
were trampled to death. 


At ebb tide, the current swirled so dangerously through the 
nineteen arches that 'shooting the bridge' was only for the 
experienced waterman. On November 8, 1429, the Duke of 
Norfolk and his retinue took barge at St. Mary Overy be- 
tween four and five hi the afternoon and swung out into a 
swift ebb. A few minutes later, the little ship smashed on the 
pilings of the bridge. Most of the company drowned, but the 
Duke and two or three others managed to leap on to stone 
parapets and cling there until men lowered ropes to them. 
These piers were often thick with Tetermen', so called be- 
cause of the fishing nets they used, Peternets. The clear- 
flowing river, dotted white with swans, swarmed with fish; 
Petermen caught smelts and salmon and barbel and flounder 
and pike and tench. 

At Galley Quay, nearest the Tower, an oar-banked Vene- 
tian galley disgorged bales of damask and velvet, spices and 
other luxury goods. Wool quay, farther west, was piled with 
'sarplers' of wool destined for Calais. A grain ship from 
Prussia or a Flemish carvel laden with Holland cloth or a 
Spanish merchantman with a cargo of wood and madder and 
iron and oil might be lying at Brown's Wharf; for Stephen 
Brown, ex-mayor and grocer, dealt in a wide variety of goods. 
The basin at Billingsgate harboured coastal fishing vessels and 
larger ships, weatherbeaten from the Iceland voyage and 
full of cod that had been salted on the return trip. The wharves 
above the Bridge were used mostly by smaller vessels, by 
barges plying the Thames from as far away as Henley, and 
by lighters from ships anchored in the river to the east of the 
Bridge. The greatest wharf here belonged to the Steelyard, 
which received bulk cargoes of timber and cables and corn 
and pitch, and dispatched bales of broadcloths to all the mar- 
kets of Eastern Europe. West of the Steelyard, ships freight- 
ing tuns of wine from Bordeaux tied up at The Three Cranes', 
the famous wharf of the vintners. 

Vessels bringing provisions to be sold by retail at the dock- 
side were required to distribute themselves evenly east and 
west of the Bridge. Eel ships, anchoring by night, were 
towed at early morning to Marlowe's Quay. Before the wait- 
ing housewives could board, a water bailiff searched for red 


eels and undersized eels, which were thrown into the 
Thames. He then supervised the weighers, who saw to it 
that Londoners got a fab: measure of eels for their money. 
Other eel ships stayed in the river and sent lighters to the 
shore for their customers. At Billingsgate and at Queenhithe, 
Norman vessels offered garlic and onions and salt for sale. 
Fish too could be bought on board but only after the Mayor 
or one of his representatives had examined the cargo and 
set a price. Rush-boats drove a thriving trade at the smaller 
wharves; servants bore away the fresh-smelling bundles on 
their backs to be strewed in halls and chambers. 

The population of London in the reign of Edward IV num- 
bered some forty or fifty thousand people, of whom about 
a quarter represented prosperous merchants and shopholders 
and artisans with their families. London had something like 
three or four times the population of York and of Bristol, 
about five times the population of Coventry and six times 
that of Norwich, and in the opinion of Italian observers it 
boasted no fewer inhabitants than Florence or Rome. Paris, 
the giant of the west, was at least four times as large. 

The city extended littie more than a mile along its river 
from the Tower to Blackfriars and less than that from the 
river to its northern walls. The perimeter of those walls is 
recalled today in the names of streets and underground sta- 
tions. From the Tower, the wall marched northward to Aid- 
gate, then westward past Moorgate and Aldersgate, and 
south by Newgate and Ludgate to Blackfriars bordered by 
Fleet Ditch. 

The one surviving description of London as it looked at 
the end of Edward IVs reign was recorded by Dominic 
Mancini, who, leaving England just as Richard m was about 
to be crowned in early July of 1483, composed on his re- 
turn to France an account of Richard's usurpation. To 
Mancini's eye, the great sinews of the city were the three 
principal streets running from east to west: 'London might 
justly complain of us for ignoring her', he writes toward the 
close of his narrative, 'as she is so famous throughout the 
world, and has deserved well of us. ... On the banks of the 
Thames are enormous warehouses for imported goods: also 


numerous cranes of remarkable size to unload merchandise 
from ships. From the district on the east, adjacent to the 
Tower, three paved streets lead towards the walls on the 
west; these are the busiest in the whole city and almost straight. 
The one closest to the river and lower than the rest is occupied 
by liquid and weighty commodities: here are to be found all 
manner of minerals, wines, honey, pitch, wax, flax, ropes, 
thread, grain, fish, and' adds the Italian, dead to the ro- 
mance of commerce 'other distasteful goods'. 

This was Thames Street, skirting wharves and warehouses 
and mansions of wealthy traders. The street swarmed with 
drays and sumpter-horses, sailors in exotic dress speaking 
exotic tongues, mercers-men and grocers-men and drapers- 
men hastening to the wharves, porters of the fishmongers 
bearing huge panniers of stockfish and ling, Italian mariners 
and merchants from Galley Quay earning scornful glances 
for their gesticulations, tough Germans from the Steelyard 
shouldering their way. Petty Wales, that part of Thames 
Street from the Tower to Billingsgate, was so blocked by 
carts and cursing carters that even royal retinues issuing from 
the Tower were forced to wait fuming until the traffic jam 
untangled itself so complained the inhabitants whose ears 
were daily assailed with a barrage of foul language. At the 
Bridge, Fish Street running northward was lined with fair 
houses and fine inns, 'The Bull', 'The King's Head', 'Paul's 
Head' in Crooked Lane all so handsomely furnished and 
provisioned that visiting lords were happy to dine there. 
Westward stretched an array of large buildings: Fishmongers 
Hall and the Steelyard and Vintners Hall surrounded by the 
stone-crofted mansions of the wine dealers with their huge 
vaulted cellars. 

The Steelyard, headquarters of the Easterlings, the mer- 
chants of the Hanse, looked like a fortress with its mass of 
stone buildings and wall and three arched gates fronting the 
street. The Hanse merchants lived under the strict rule of a 
head man and twelve councillors; they took their meals to- 
gether; they were not allowed to marry and no woman was 
permitted on the property; they kept a suit of armour in ev- 
ery bedroom. A London alderman represented them in the 


city government, and they were given charge of one of the 
gates, Bishopsgate. 

Thames Street had its cook-shops too, where folk might 
come to buy meals at a moment's notice. Fruiterers and 
cooks' boys shouted their wares 'hot peascods!' 'strawberry 
ripe!' 'cherry on the ryse [branch]!' These street cries and 
other pungent details of London Life are described in the 
contemporary poem London Lickpenny, perhaps by John Lyd- 
gate, which pictures an innocent Kentish yokel, come to 
Westminster Hall to seek justice, wandering through the city, 
always discomfited because for lack of money I might not 
speed [prosper]'. 

In the second street, part way up the slope from the river 
*you will find', Mancini reports, 'hardly anything for sale 
but cloths'. He was remembering, however, only one section, 
Candlewick Street. Actually far from straight, this thorough- 
fare ran westward from the Tower as Tower Street, became 
the bustle of East Cheap, broadened into lines of mercers* 
and drapers' shops on Candlewick Street, and then twisted 
its way by Budge Row and Watling Street into St. Paul's 
Churchyard. Up Mincing Lane, to the north of Tower Street, 
dwelt Genoese merchants and 'galleymen'. Mark or Mart 
Lane, likewise running north, displayed houses and offices of 
Merchants of the Staple. East Cheap offered butcher shops and 
cook-shops and famous taverns like the 'Boar's Head'. Here 
occurred the memorable 'hurling' on Midsummer's Eve, 1410, 
when Henry IVs younger sons John and Thomas supped so 
rousingly that their retinues fell into a great brawl, which 
was only quelled after the Mayor and sheriffs had rallied 
an armed band of citizens. Though East Cheap was crammed 
and noisy and redolent of smells, the inns offered fine food; 
Sir John Howard found 'The Greyhound' a fitting hostelry 
in which to offer breakfast to Lord Audley. The Kentishman 
of London Lickpenny was deafened by street cries. *Ribs of 
beef !' 'Pies!' 'Hot sheep's feet!' 'Rushes fair and green!' Pots 
'clattered on a heap' as pewterers hawked their wares. Fish- 
mongers behind their stalls urged passers-by to purchase *mel- 
well [cod] and mackerel'. Bands of ragged minstrels played 
for coppers on 'harp, pipe, and sawtry'. Others sang of Jenkin 


and Julian. Oaths split the air 'yea by cokke [God]!' and 
'nay by cokke!' Here the best cook-shops in the city displayed 
steaming pasties and other hearty fare. Prosperous cooks 
often boarded the servants and retainers of lords visiting 
London. Such men would not sally into the street, as did their 
humbler competitors, who plucked at folk, even fine gentle- 
men, with greasy hands, trying to pull them into the shop. 
There were so many complaints that the Cooks Gild at- 
temped to prohibit this undignified practice. But cooks were 
not the only offenders: smaller retailers of all kinds were 
always seizing people by the 'sleeve gown or otherwise'. Fi- 
nally the city required the great companies to restrain their 
members, and even the lordly Mercers registered the edict 
in their minutes. 

Running out of East Cheap to the west, Candlewick Street 
was the stronghold of the drapers. 'Great cheap of cloth!* the 
Kentishman heard the smaller shopholders calling. Roomy 
establishments contained shelves piled with cloths of all col- 
ours and grades, tapestries, pillows, 'bankers and dorsers' to 
soften hard wooden benches. A room to the rear and a 
vaulted cellar held more bolts and bales; for drapers were 
importers and exporters as well as retailers. 

Candlewick Street catered to gentry and lords from all over 
the country, who often bought cloth for their households 
when they came to London to attend Parliament or the court 
of the King or to nurse then* lawsuits at Westminster. From 
William Bulstrode, Sir John Howard purchased counterfeit 
tapestries (painted cloth), and cushions covered with crim- 
son and green velvet, as well as crimson cloth 'ingrained' 
(of the best dye) at 8s 6d yard; and he kept a running ac- 
count that amounted to many pounds a year. On occasion, 
after Howard and Bulstrode had done business, the knight sent 
out for wine and wafers; once Sir John presented Bulstrode 
with a handsome pike that cost 16d. 

By St. Swithin's Church on the south side of Candlewick 
stood the London Stone, wrapped with iron bars, a menace to 
unwary carters and an historic monument of which the exact 
meaning had been lost. 

Budge Row (i.e., Fur Row) was the domain of the skin- 


ners; shops of leather-sellers and hosiers lined Soper Lane 
leading off to the north. There were more drapers in Watling 
Street. The parish church of St. Anthony held handsome 
tombs of mercers and grocers. The cross streets here were 
bright with carved timber work and painted gates leading 
into courtyards; for this was one of the wealthiest quarters 
of the city, and here too stood 'fair inns for receipt of carriers 
and travellers'. 

Mancini recounts that 'in the third street which touches 
the centre of the town and runs on a level, there is traffic in 
more precious wares, such as gold and silver cups, dyed stuffs, 
various silks, carpets, tapestries, and much other exotic mer- 
chandise'. He found the shops here far more commodious 
than those in Continental cities: 'they are not encumbered 
with merchandise only at the entrance; but hi the inmost 
quarters there are spacious depositories, where the goods are 
heaped up, stowed and packed away as honey may be seen 
in cells'. Mancini's third street was the most famous thorough- 
fare in the city. From Aldgate to St. Paul's, it ran as Aldgate 
Street and Cornhill to the Stocks Market; then came The 
Poultry and finally West Cheap or Cheapside or simply *The 
Street', so renowned was it. Travellers from East Anglia rid- 
ing into London through Aldgate often put up at the Saracen's 
Head Inn just inside the wall on the south side. To the north 
stood Holy Trinity Priory, the grandest monastery in the 
city, whose Prior was Alderman of Portsoken ward, a poor 
district of crowded tenements outside the walls to the east. 
Farther along Aldgate towered the magnificent parish church 
of St. Andrew Undershaft, so called because the maypole 
erected there rose higher than the steeple. Cornhill had been 
a grain market time out of mind. On the north side 'foreign 
butchers' set up their blocks and stalls on Wednesday and 
Saturday. Here too, daily except Sundays and feastdays, long 
bread carts from Stratford-atte-Bowe sold penny wheat loaves 
two ounces heavier than the standard London loaves. Half- 
way up the street, "The Tun upon Cornhill* flowed with wa- 
ter brought from Tyburn in pipes. On the top was perched a 
cage where 'nightwalkers* riotous folk 'flown with insolence 
and wine* and bawds and priests caught tasting the flesh pots 


were incarcerated by the night watch. Stocks and pillory, 
on a wooden platform nearby, exposed to ridicule knaves 
who preyed upon the public by all manner of fraudulent 
schemes. In 1468 'divers common jurors' who had committed 
perjury were displayed in this pillory with paper mitres on 
then* heads. 

At the corner of Cornhill and Lime Street stood the Green 
Gate, the mansion of the unpopular alderman Philip Malpas, 
which was plundered by Jack Cade and his followers. Like 
other great houses, the Green Gate was separated from the 
street by a row of tenements, here a frontage of nine shops 
broken by a gate leading into the courtyard. At Bishopsgate 
Street rose the massive 'quadrant' of the Leadenhall, which 
had been enlarged and rebuilt by the famous Simon Eyre, 
draper and mayor of London. The Leadenhall housed a 
'common granary*, storage space for wool, a chapel where 
divine service was held early every morning for market peo- 
ple, and large enclosures in which aliens and 'foreigns* set 
up stalls on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to sell canvas, 
linen, cloth of all kinds, ironmongery, and lead, and where 
country people hawking provisions might find shelter for 
themselves in wet weather. Cornhill clattered with the hoofs 
of sumpter-horses packing wool from the Hampshire and 
Wiltshire Downs and the Cotswolds to be weighed at the 
Leadenhall on the 'King's beam' and sealed by the customs 
men. The bulky sarplers were then carted down to the wool 
wharves. On a fine summer morning the markets would be 
astir by four o'clock. 

Farther along, still on the south side, stood two notable 
parish churches, St. Peter-upon-Cornhill, with its library and 
grammar school, and St. Michael's, whose six bells were 'ac- 
counted the best peal of bells in England for harmony, 
sweetness of sound and tune'. The largest, Rus Bell, named 
for the alderman who gave it, rang nightly at 8 P.M. In the 
westward reaches of Cornhill *upholders' sold secondhand 
clothes and cheap household stuff. The hero of London Lick- 
penny saw hanging outside one of these shops his hood which 
had been stolen only a short time before at Westminster. 

The open expanse of the Stocks Market was crowded with 


stalls of fishmongers, butchers, and poulterers. To the north 
rose the roofs of Grocers Hall, in which Edward IV feasted 
the Bastard of Burgundy (June, 1467) to display for him the 
opulence of London merchants. At the Great Conduit, where 
Bucklersbury Lane curved up from the south, The Poultry 
became West Cheap. This conduit, the oldest in the city, pro- 
vided spring water brought from Paddington, and like most 
of the other conduits hi the city was rebuilt and enlarged 
during Edward's reign. If the wind were from the south, the 
passer-by pausing for a drink would smell the odour of good 
English herbs mingled with a galaxy of exotic scents coming 
from the grocers' shops which lined Bucklersbury Lane. 
Grocers were apothecaries too and they sold treacle of Genoa 
and honey and sugar loaves and copperas and cubebs and 
liquorice, as well as spices and all manner of coarse goods in 
bulk. Housewives came to Bucklersbury Lane to purchase 
imported white Castile soap in a hard cake at 2id the pound 
or a speckled grey soap from Bristol, Very sweet and good*, 
at a penny a pound or the ordinary cheap liquid black soap 
at id a pound. 

First hi the handsome reach of Cheapside stood the Stand- 
ard and its cistern, originally of wood, but now being rebuilt 
hi stone through a generous bequest of William Wells, former 
mayor. Here Lord Say was executed by the jeering followers 
of Jack Cade in 1450; and here at the beginning of Edward 
IVs reign, John Davy, a favourite of the King, had his hand 
cut off for striking a man before the Judges at Westminster 
Hall. Farther along the street rose the great cross erected by 
Edward I, now being rebuilt at a cost of well over 1,000 
through the generosity of London citizens. At the top of 
Cheap another 'fair conduit', erected about 1430, refreshed 
passers-by. Near the Standard, on the south side, stood the 
church of St. Mary le Bow, so called because it was built on 
arches of stone. The famous Bow Bell rang curfew at 9 P.M. 
and, along with the bells of All Hallows Barking, St. Giles 
without Cripplegate, and St. Bride's in Fleet Street, sounded 
the hours at night. In 1472 John Donne, mercer, gave two 
tenements hi Hosiers Lane for the maintenance of Bow BelL 

West Cheap, the pride of London, was the domain of the 


mercers and goldsmiths, the mercers living mostly in lower 
Cheapside in 'large fair houses' with commodious shops on 
the ground floor. Mercers Hall was situated on the north side, 
and around the corner, up St. Laurence Lane, was Blossom's 
Inn so called because its sign showed St. Laurence the Dea- 
con in a border of blossoms which was the terminus for 
carriers from all over eastern England. 

'Then into Cheap I gan me draw', reports the Kentish lad 
of London Lickpenny, Vhere I saw stand much people'. Up 
Cheapside towards St. Paul's, the shops of the goldsmiths 
displayed an array of gold and silver plate, jewels and rings 
and ewers and mazers and standing saltcellars with covers. 
Foreign visitors were amazed at the precious wares the Lon- 
don goldsmiths had to offer. Their shops and houses extended 
up Guthran Lane, too, where stood their Hall, and they lay 
splendidly buried in the nearby churches of St. Vedast and 
St. Peter in Cheap and St. Matthew in Friday Street and St 
John Zachary. In the year before Columbus discovered 
America, some of the goldsmiths were newly housed in a 
block of buildings which caused even a cool-eyed Venetian 
diplomatic agent to write: 'The most remarkable thing in 
London is the wonderful quantity of wrought silver. In one 
single thoroughfare, named The Street, leading to St. Paul's 
there are fifty-two goldsmiths shops so rich and full of silver 
vessels, great and small, that in all the shops in Milan, Rome 
and Venice and Florence put together, I do not think there 
would be found so magnificent an array. And these vessels 
are all either saltcellars or drinking cups or basins to hold 
water for the hands; for they eat off. that fine tin, which is 
little inferior to silver [pewter].' He adds, The citizens of 
London are thought quite as highly of there, as the Venetian 
gentlemen are at Venice'. He was remembering the build- 
ings on the south side of Cheap between Bread Street and 
Friday Street which Stow calls 'the most beautiful frame of 
fair houses and shops that be within the walls of London, or 
elsewhere in England . . . builded by Thomas Woode, 
goldsmith, one of the sheriffs of London, in the year 1491. It 
contains ten fair dwelling houses and fourteen shops, uni- 
formly builded four storeys high, beautified towards the street 


with the goldsmiths arms and the likeness of woodmen, in 
memory of his name, riding on monstrous beasts, all which is 
cast in lead, richly painted over and gilt'. Woode intended 
these shops to be occupied by enterprising young goldsmiths, 
and he provided stocks of money that they might borrow to 
set themselves up in business. 

Atop of Ludgate Hill towered St. Paul's, a massive pile 
720 feet long, 130 feet broad, and 150 feet high, with a steeple 
that thrust almost 500 feet into the air, crowned by a copper 
gilt weathercock. Famous preachers of the day exhibited their 
skill at Paul's Cross, in the northeast corner of the church- 
yard; during the Wars of the Roses, godly exhortations were 
sometimes replaced by political harangues. Paul's cloister, on 
the north side of the cathedral, contained a fine library in the 
East quadrant. The cloister buzzed with worldly voices, for 
lawyers were always to be found here walking up and down 
talking to their clients; as they discussed means of circum- 
venting wills or upsetting land titles, they saw writhing on 
the walls about them the Dance of Death, copied in the reign 
of Henry VI from the famous murals hi Paris and provided 
with sentiments by John Lydgate. Not far from Paul's Cross 
squatted a fat stone tower housing the four bells of St. Paul's, 
'Jesus bells' 'the greatest I have ever heard', declares Stow. 

Nearby, the Collegiate Church of St. Martin-le-Grand, chief 
sanctuary within the walls of London, was crowded with crim- 
inals and debtors and, sometimes, political refugees. North 
of Paul's on Newgate Street, the massive establishment of the 
Grey Friars contained a church 100 yards long, spacious clois- 
ters, and a beautiful library, toward the building of which 
Richard Whittington had contributed 400. The library was 
129 feet long and 31 feet broad, all panelled with wainscot; it 
offered readers twenty-eight desks and eight 'double setters* 
and was well stocked with books. Blackfriars, to the south- 
west of Paul's, had a hall so commodious that Parliaments 
and other assemblies were held there. 

Mancini neglects to mention some of the greatest houses in 
the city, like Pountney's Inn and The Erber and Cold-Harbour, 
erected by merchants but now the London seats of lords. On 
Bishopsgate Street, Sir John Crosby, alderman, built Crosby's 


Place, whose roofs towered higher than those of any other 
dwelling in London; Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later occu- 
pied this handsome house and garden; and the great hall now 
stands in Chelsea to show the splendour of timber and stone 
in which The Clothing' of London housed themselves. Though 
the region east of St. Paul's might be called the aristocratic 
quarter, notable houses were scattered all over the city. In the 
same way, Candlewick Street belonged particularly to the 
drapers as western Cheapside to the goldsmiths, but Mancini 
notes that *there are in the town many other populous quarters 
with numerous trades'. 

An influential member of the gentry like Sir John Howard 
needed so much cloth for his household and himself that 
though he bought largely from Bulstrode of Candlewick 
Street, he dealt with drapers and mercers in several parts of 
London. He ran up large bills with John Porter, and to put 
Ms people in mourning for the death of his mother he pur- 
chased from Thomas Bernwey, also of Candlewick Street, 
ninety-six yards of black broadcloth and sixty yards of white 
frieze in one order. But Howard also bought fine crimson 
ingrain and green cloth from Gay of Fleet Street, paying 6 
13s 4d in cash, in June, and giving an obligation to deliver the 
remaining 15 8s 6d at Michaelmas next coming. He pa- 
tronized William Boylet, draper, hi Thames Street and Robert 
Hardwick, draper, in Lombard Street. He sometimes ordered 
fine cloth from 'Leonard the tailor* hi Southwark, who made 
it up into gowns for as little as 15d or 16d the gown, though 
the labour of lining a doublet might come to 2s or more. From 
Thomas Rowson, mercer, hi Cheap, he purchased sarcenet; 
*Lumpner the mercer' and Laurence Troyce sold him crimson 
velvet; but when he wanted to array himself for the Queen's 
coronation in 1465 and for the famous jousts at Smithfield in 
1467 between the Bastard of Burgundy and Lord Scales, the 
Queen's brother, Howard went to Humfrey Gentile, an Italian 
draper who probably dwelt in Lombard Street. Here he bought 
black and red and crimson and green damask, black and crim- 
son velvet, red and black satin, and six gorgeous yards of 
Velvet on velvet pearled with gold', which cost some 50 a 
yard in modern money. 


Though London was girdled by green fields, as Mancini 
reports, the city already thrust beyond its walls. To the east, 
Portsoken ward was a huddle of tenements and open spaces 
where weavers stretched their cloth on tenters', Bishopsgate 
ward to the northeast, extended to tihe Priory of St Mary 
Spital, a distance of some 600 yards. Moor-fields, to the north, 
offered marshy ground where young men shot at butts or 
played football. Then came the portions of Cripplegate and 
Aldersgate wards beyond the walls, not very thickly populated; 
and finally, to the northwest and west and southwest stretched 
the great ward of Farringdon Without, which included Smith- 
field and the Priory of St. Bartholomew and the numerous 
Inns of Chancery and Inns of Court and the shops of Fleet 
Street and the lovely grounds of the Temple running down to 
the river. Smithfield, at ordinary times, was a dusty, noisy 
stinking cattlemarket; but royal jousts were held in the square; 
and the Mayor and aldermen in full regalia came out during 
St. Bartholomew's fair to watch the wrestling. 

Past Temple Bar ran the country highway of the Strand, 
London residences of the bishops lining the south side. North- 
ward and westward from Charing Cross lay open fields. But 
turning to the south with the curve of the river, that rare Lon- 
doner who did not go by boat would soon arrive at Westmin- 
ster gate, famous for its cluster of cook-shops and their ag- 
gressive owners. After a miserable experience in Westminster 
Hall, Lydgate's Kentish boy headed for London: 

Then to Westminster gate I went 
When the sun was at high prime. 
Cooks to me, they took good intent, 
Called me nearer, for to dine, 
And proffered me good bread, ale and wine. 
A fair cloth they began to spread- 
Ribs of beef, both fat and fine, 
But for lack of money I might not speed. 

That industrious scribbler of verses and Clerk of the Privy 
Seal, Thomas Hoccleve, confessed how in his youth he emp- 
tied his purse in order to swagger it out as a gentleman 


Where was a greater master eke than I 

Or better acquainted at Westminster Gate 

Among the taverners namely 

And cooks when I came early or late. 

I pinched not at them in mine agate 

[I never deigned to question the bill] 

But paid them as that they ask would 

Wherefore I was the welcomer aldgate [indeed]. 

On the river side of the courtyard at Westminster Palace, 
an arched gate led to a landing. The 'Clochard' a massive 
stone tower about sixty feet high with a lead spire, housed 
three giant bells rung only for coronations, royal funerals, and 
triumphal occasions. 'Men fabled that their ringing soured all 
the drink in the town'. Near the entry to Westminster Hall 
stood the Clock House containing *a cloche, which striketh 
every hour on a great bell, to be heard into the hall in sitting 
time of the courts or otherwise: for the same clock, in calm, 
will be heard into the city of London*. With the clock sounding 
the hours, and cooks at the gate crying their wares, Wretches 
hang that jury men may dine'; for Westminster Hall, the great 
edifice of William Rufus rebuilt in splendid style by Richard 
n, was thronged with suitors and witnesses and plaintiffs and 
defendants. The King's Serjeants (attorneys) thundered in 
silken hoods to be answered by lawyers in their long gowns 
of 'ray' (striped) cloth. The Court of Common Pleas and the 
Court of King's Benchwith its marble seat for royalty, on 
which, at the beginning of his reign, Edward IV sat three days 
together to show that he meant to dispense justice and the 
Court of Chancery, growing into great importance in this age, 
were all housed in Westminster Hall, from which stairs as- 
cended into the courts of Star Chamber and the Exchequer. 
At the doors, Flemings hawked pins and girdles and fine felt 
hats and that handy invention, spectacles. 

Across the river and outside the jurisdiction of London 
stretched the borough of Southwark. Impressed with its size, 
Mancini described it as 'a suburb remarkable for its streets 
and buildings, which, if it were surrounded by walls, might be 
called a second city'. Southwark offered Londoners a variety 


of entertainment: bear-baiting pits and cock-fighting rings and 
stews and bagnios which paid rent to the bailiffs of the Bishop 
of Winchester prostitutes were once called the Bishop of Win- 
chester's geese. The district also contained several churches 
and some mansions, including Sir John Fastolfe's, which was 
large enough for him to stuff it with old soldiers of the French 
wars when Jack Cade's thousands were marching up from 
Kent. There were notable inns too, The Tabard* made famous 
by Master Geoffrey Chaucer, whose works were being enthu- 
siastically read in this period, and 'The White Hart*, which 
Jack Cade found grand enough to make his headquarters. 

Mancini ends his description of the English capital with a 
.flourish of praise: 'Did I intend to enlarge on the refinements 
of the inhabitants, the magnificence of the banquets, the eccle- 
siastical ceremonial, the adornment and opulence of the 
churches, I should embark on a larger work than I intended.' 

In the Yorkist Age the decaying mediaeval city was re- 
edified into the final image of mediaeval splendour, but this 
civic pride, expressed in conspicuous consumption of wealth, 
pointed toward the worldly concerns of the future. Though a 
man of the fourteenth century would have found much in the 
London of Edward IV that was familiar, this was not the city 
of Edward El or Richard IL That city had been racked by 
the quarrels of factional politics; its liberties had from time to 
time been seized into the King's hands; much of its wealth and 
the greater part of its trade were still controlled by foreigners; 
and the parish churches and great religious foundations 
showed signs of wear. Under the Tudors, on the other hand, 
London would grow dirtier and more crowded and a deeper 
gulf would open between rich and poor. Stow lamented closely 
huddled tenements which obscured the lines of public build- 
ings, the ugly hovels overnmning green fields without the 
walls. The burst of fanaticism and greed which ushered in 
the Reformation swept away glass, images, monuments of the 
parish churches. Miles Partridge, who broke up St Paul's 
Jesus. Bells and pulled down the Clochard, reportedly won 
these spoils playing dice with Henry VIIL The Priory of St 


John of Jerusalem was demolished to provide stone for the 
Protector Somerset's house in the Strand. 

In the earlier years of the fifteenth century Richard Whit- 
tington, thrice Mayor of London and the 'Sun of Marchandy* 
blazoned the theme of civic devotion which city magnates 
coming after him strove with splendid emulation to follow. 
He bequeathed money for Whittington College. He rebuilt 
churches and established conduits and 'bosses' of fresh water. 
That symbol of municipal power, Gildhall, begun in 1411, 
owed much to him: his money paved the hall with Purveck 
marble, glazed windows in the hall and the mayor's court, 
edified the chapel and college and the fine library. After him, 
John Rainwell and William Wells and William Eastfield and 
Simon Eyre and Geoffrey Bullen, great-grandfather of the ill- 
fated Anne, and Edmund Shaa and Thomas Hill and many 
others left their coat of arms or merchant's mark or device 
punning upon their names on stone and glass and lead all over 
London as memorials of their civic generosity. They piped in 
fresh water for London's growing population and established 
schools and libraries and re-edified city gates and founded 
almshouses and hospitals and rebuilt churches and gave away 
thousands of pounds to the poor and the sick, relieved prison- 
ers and provided dowries 'to poor maids' marriages'. In 1439, 
when the city was afflicted by a dearth of grain and prices 
shot beyond the reach of ordinary citizens, Stephen Browne, 
Mayor of London and grocer, sent into Prussia to buy grain 
on his own, and soon ships came sailing up the Thames to 
drive down prices and end the threat of famine. 

London did not offer a show on Corpus Christi Day. The 
capital of the realm and King's Chamber had its own pag- 
eantry. With flapping banners and tapestries hung from win- 
dows and streets strewn with flowers and minstrels and trum- 
peters playing, London staged 'royal entries' and marked the 
coronation of kings and queens and provided a brilliant back- 
ground for special occasions, as when, in 1467, the opening of 
Parliament coincided with a great joust between the Bastard 
of Burgundy and Lord Scales. Thousands thronged into the 
city for the excitements of Bartholomew Fair, where the 


Mayor, sheltered by a pavilion, presided over wrestling and 
shooting matches. Best of all the citizens loved the double 
festival of the Marching Watch, held on the Eves of St. John 
Baptist (June 23) and of St. Peter and Paul (June 28). 

The three or four thousand citizens who formed the March- 
ing Watch of St. John's Eve became the Standing Watch on 
the Eve of St. Peter and Paul. A store of provisions was laid 
in against the day; armour was burnished until it shone like 
glass. Early in the morning, women and children streamed 
out of London to plunder the surrounding countryside for 
flowers and green garlands. As evening approached, bonfires 
began to blaze. Tables, set up before the houses of 'the wealth- 
ier sort', were covered with meat and vessels of wine and 
many a pottle of ale which neighbours and passers-by were 
bidden to 'sit and be merry with'. Every man's door was shad- 
owed with green birch, long fennel, St. John's wort, orpea, 
white lilies. Oil-burning glass lamps were set out on long stand- 
ards. The Standing Watch lined the route of the march, al- 
dermen wearing polished brigandines covered with velvet, or- 
dinary citizens in jack and sallet 

Assembling in St. Paul's churchyard and down Ludgate Hill, 
the' Marching Watch moved into Cheapside hi ranks of armed 
men marshalled by gilds and led by the twelve great Livery 
Companies. The procession was lit by 700 cressets, iron bas- 
kets holding fires of coal and wood on long poles. Each cresset 
was borne by a poor man decked in a straw hat and painted 
badge, having beside him another poor man in like array with 
a bag of coals for a refuelling. Accompanied by trumpets and 
pipes and drums, the martial array swept between files of 
armed men, gild after gild gleaming in the flame of bonfires 
and cressets. Here came the 'Mayor's Watch*, with the Mayor 
'well mounted on horseback, the sword-bearer before him in 
fair armour well mounted also, (his) footmen and torch bear- 
ers about him, and two pages on great stirring horses following 
him'. Then appeared the Watches of the two sheriffs, only a 
little less grand. 

As in the other municipalities of England, the richly har- 
nessed citizens who dominated this parade constituted the mer- 
cantile oligarchy which governed the city. Of eighty-eight may- 


ors during the century, the Mercers and Grocers and Drapers 
accounted for sixty-one; almost all the rest were Fishmongers, 
Goldsmiths or Skinners. Six other gilds contributed a few al- 
dermenthe Tailors, Vintners, Ironmongers, Haberdashers, 
Salters, and Dyers. Such were the twelve great Livery Com- 
panies, established by royal charter, which dominated the 
other fifty gilds more or less: there were always recombina- 
tionsand ruled the life of London. The heart of the city gov- 
ernment consisted of the Mayor, aldermen one for each of 
the twenty-five wards and the Common Council. The latter 
sounds a representative note but was in fact of small impor- 
tance in the fifteenth century. Aldermen, who served for life, 
were nominated by the wards, four names being put forward, 
but the Mayor and his brethren could reject all four if they 
wished. Common Councillors were likewise nominated by the 

On October 13, the Common Council and the Masters and 
Wardens of the chief gilds assembled to choose two candidates 
for the mayoralty. The Mayor and aldermen then selected one 
of these men to be the new Mayor. In effect, the whole ma- 
chinery of municipal elections was in the hands of "The Cloth- 
ing 9 . 

During the reign of Edward IV the Mayor became Lord 
Mayor and aldermen began to be knighted in considerable 
numbers, 'to the great worship of the city'. The mayors of all 
towns jealously guarded their 'estate*, but there was no emi- 
nence in municipal England like the dignity of the Lord Mayor 
of London. At Coronation banquets in Westminster Hall, the 
Mayor had the privilege of offering the King wine in a gold 
cup, presenting him at the same time with a gold ewer of water 
to temper the wine if His Highness pleased; after the King had 
drunk, the Mayor kept the cup and ewer for his fee'. The 
aldermen and certain substantial citizens attended upon the 
Butler of England at the banquet and were usually given 
places of honour. At court or in the great hall of a magnate 
of the realm, the Mayor of London sat with a Chief Justice 
of England and was outranked only by peers. How the city 
writhed in 1468 when the frivolous young Duke of Clarence, 
sitting on a commission of Oyer and Determiner to enquire 


into treasons, was given the opportunity of demeaning the 
Mayor. One day that worthy Thomas Owlgrave, 'a lumpish 
man' dozed off, and Clarence 'said openly in his derision 
"Speak softly, sirs, for the Mayor is asleep" *. 

A story retailed in Tudor times about Sir Bartholomew 
Read, mayor in 1502, illustrates the high style in which the 
Mayor of London was expected to conduct himself. When 
Read, a goldsmith, held his mayoralty feast in Goldsmiths Hall 
Gildhall had not yet been equipped with a kitchen he invited 
the ambassador of France and several 'great estates of court*, 
so that about one hundred persons sat down at three long 
tables to a feast of three courses. The first, of fifteen dishes, 
was served on vessels 'of new white silver'; the second, of 
twelve dishes, appeared on silver 'parcel gilt'; and the third, 
of ten dishes, came forth on silver 'all gilt'. As the guests ate 
their way through these courses, dishes were not removed to 
the kitchen but were placed 'within a park finely paled and 
cunningly dressed and garnished with all manner of sweet and 
goodly flowers in the midst of the hall. And after dinner the 
same meat was carried out at the gate, and immediately given 
to the poor, that were orderly placed in the street ready to 
receive of the same*. 

At the conclusion of the banquet, an Italian jeweller pro- 
duced 'a stone of great value, and said that he had offered the 
same to the Emperor, the French King and the King of Eng- 
land, but none of them would give the value thereof. The 
Mayor heard him and said: "Have ye offered it to our sov- 
ereign lord the King's Grace?" The stranger answered: < Yea". 
Then sayeth the mayor: "Think you the King's Grace refused 
it for want of treasure? Let me see it", said he and asked him 
what he valued it at. The stranger said a thousand marks 
[666]. "And will that buy it?" sayeth the Mayor. "Yea", 
sayeth the stranger. Then the Mayor took the jewel and com- 
manded one to bring him a spice mortar and a pestle and 
willed his officer to beat [the stone] to powder. And so he did. 
Then the Mayor called for a cup of wine, and put [the 
powder] in the cup and drank it off clean, and said to the 
stranger: "Speak honourably of the King of England, for 
thou hast now seen one of his poor subjects drink a thousand 


marks at a draft". And then commanded his money to be paid 

If this story seems pitched to a higher flight than truth could 
achieve, another example of the Mayor's pride is fully 
vouched for. In 1464, the King's serjeants-at-law held a din- 
ner at Ely House, within the boundaries of the city, and in- 
vited the Mayor and aldermen of London and some lords of 
court, including the powerful and arrogant and learned John 
Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester. As the banquet was about to be- 
gin, the Earl was ceremoniously ushered to the seat of honour. 
Mayor Mathew Philip looked at his aldermen. Without a word, 
he abruptly left the hall, his brethren following him. They rode 
to the Mayor's house, where Philip nonchalantly spread before 
them a worthy feast. The Serjeants, horrified at the awful lapse 
of which they had been guilty, hastily sent messengers to 
the mayor bearing 'divers sotelteys' in an attempt to sweeten 
his temper but when the messengers saw how lavishly the 
Mayor was entertaining at his own table, they retired in 
shame. Mathew Philip had vividly reminded everybody that, 
as a London chronicler notes, Within the jurisdiction of the 
city, the Mayor is supreme after the King'. 

In 1481 Edward IV invited the Mayor and aldermen and 
certain of the most substantial citizens to a hunting party in 
Waltham Forest. Mayor Hariot enjoyed the King's favour be- 
cause he Vas a merchant of wondrous adventures into many 
sundry lands by reason whereof the King had yearly of him 
notable sums of money for his customs, besides other pleasure 
that he had shown to the King before times'. When the Lon- 
doners reached the forest, they found a Robin Hood scene 
awaiting them: beneath great trees 'a pleasant lodge of green 
boughs had been erected for their dining place. And the King 
would not go to dinner till they were served. And they were 
well served and worshipful'; their meat was as beautifully 
cooked 'as if it had been dressed in a standing place*. Then 
red and white wine went round. After dinner the Londoners 
mounted their horses to hunt with the King and killed many 
deer. Nor did Edward neglect their wives: he sent the 'May- 
oress' and the wives of the aldermen two harts and six butts 


and a tun of wine 'to make them merry with', and on this 
kingly fare the ladies feasted in Drapers Hall. 

Despite passing perils and crises caused by the Wars of the 
Roses, the capital of England had never been so prosperous, 
so enterprising, so lovely. 1 'London,' sang the Scot William 
Dunbar, enchanted by what he saw, 'thou art of Towns A 
per se!' 

Strong be thy wallis that about thee standis; 

Wise be the people that within thee dwellis; 
Fresh be thy ryver with his lusty strandis; 

Blithe be thy churches, wele sownyge be thy bellis; 
Riche be thy merchauntis in substaunce that excellis; 

Fair be their wives, right lovesom, white and small; 
Clere be thy virgyns, lusty under kellis: 

London, thou art the flour of Cities all. 

1 That is, at the end of Edward IV's reign. London in the fourteenth 
century offered more spectacular examples, perhaps, of individual wealth 
but could not match the general prosperity of 1483. 



IN an age when the London m6nage of the Earl of Warwick 
sometimes consumed six oxen for breakfast and when the 
Kingmaker spread before visiting Bohemian lords a feast of 
sixty courses, it behooved the King of England to surround 
himself with a household that expressed the uniqueness of his 
prerogative. Magnificence exemplified power. The Act of Re- 
sumption of Henry VH's first Parliament announced, "Your 
honourable household must be kept and borne worshipfully 
and honourably, as it accordeth to the honour of your estate 
and your said realm, by the which your adversaries and ene- 
mies shall fall into the dread wherein heretofore they have 

Splendour not only bolstered royal authority but was an 
essential attribute of kingship itself, as Sir John Fortescue 
makes clear: It shall need that the King have such treasure 
as he may make new buildings when he will for his pleasure 
and magnificence; and as he may buy him rich clothes, rich 
stones, and other jewels and ornaments convenient to his es- 
tate royal. And often times he will buy rich hangings and 
other apparel for his houses and do other such noble and 
great costs as besitteth his royal majesty. For if a king did 
not so, nor might do, he lived then not like his estate, but 
rather in misery, and in more subjection than doth a private 

Feeble Henry VI and his rapacious courtiers fell far short 
of this kingly standard. As his government crumbled in the 
1440's and 1450's, Henry's lords, battening on the royal lands 
and revenues, grew richer while Henry sank more hopelessly 


into debt. The King was carefully insulated from the public 
discontent stirred by this state of affairs. Even clerks who 
preached before him had first to submit their sermons to cen- 

It was a gloomy tatterdemalion court. Endowed with the 
instincts of a monk, and with a clouding mind, Henry cared 
little for show at the sight of a low-necked gown he fled, cry- 
fog *Fy> fVj for shame!' and he had no understanding of 
finances. The establishment swarmed with impecunious hang- 
ers-on; at the half dozen great religious festivals of the year, 
hundreds of squires and gentlemen hungrily thronged the court 
to live for several days on the King's bounty. Meanwhile, 
Serjeants and yeomen and clerks of the royal household des- 
perately petitioned Parliament for wages long unpaid. 

By 1449, the year before Jack Cade's rebellion, the King 
owed 372,000; the expenses of his household amounted to 
the enormous sum of -24,000 Edward IV spent about half 
that much-whereas his basic revenues totalled only 5,000. 
A correspondent of the Pastons reported from London on 
January 2, 1451, The King borroweth his expenses for 
Christmas'. During the later 1450's, with Henry slipping in 
and out of madness and his Queen, Margaret of Anjou, mov- 
ing about the realm as she began her duel to the death with 
the Duke of York, the royal household as an institution of 
kingship virtually ceased to exist: 

The realm of England was out of all good governance,' a 
chronicler summed up, 'for the king was simple and led by 
covetous council and owed more than he was worth. His debts 
increased daily but payment was there none; all the posses- 
sions and lordships that pertained to the crown the King had 
given away. And such impositions as were put to the people 
was spended in vain, for he held no household nor maintained 
no wars.' 

When Henry, in 1459, kept Easter at the Abbey of St. Al- 
bans, he presented his best gown to the prior. His embar- 
rassed treasurer had to buy it back for fifty marks, much 
against the King's will, because it was the only robe Henry 
owned that was presentable for state occasions. 

Thus the mediaeval tradition of the royal household with- 


ered. Edward IV, ascending the throne in March, 1461, de- 
veloped an economical but splendid court, grounded on the 
precedents of past households yet reaching towards a more 
sophisticated expression of kingship. He originated, in a sense, 
the mode of kingly living which, transmitted with embellish- 
ments by Henry VII, became the Renaissance taste and osten- 
tation displayed by Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. 

When the handsome and merry and victorious young Ed- 
ward of March rode into London with the mighty Warwick at 
the end of February, 1461, and the plundering hordes of 
Queen Margaret were forced to withdraw into the North, the 
happy Londoners sang, 'Let us walk in a new wineyard, and 
let us make us a gay garden in the month of March with this 
fair white rose and herb, the Earl of March'. After assuming 
the Crown and then defeating the Lancastrians at Towton, 
this fair white rose and herb proceeded to make a gay garden 
which expressed his own enjoyment of the bright surfaces of 
life and also showed the realm that the House of York un- 
derstood the proper style of kingship. 

From the royal palaces the wintry gloom of Henry VI was 
banished, to be replaced by youthful laughter, love songs, 
the aroma of summer flowers. Chambers flashed with velvet 
and jewels and the new honorific badge of York, a collar of 
suns and roses which all members of the royal household of 
the rank of gentlemen and above were required to wear daily. 
When Edward and his court went hunting, tables heavy with 
roasted meats and sugared dainties were stretched in the shade 
of the trees, and silken tents grew like gargantuan flowers on 
the lawns. The King and his courtiers glided on the Thames 
in gilded barges, down to Greenwich or up to Shene (Rich- 
mond) , jousted at Eltham, feasted at Westminster, made love 
by moonlight and torchlight, rose at dawn to hear Mass, broke 
their fast with a mess of meat and ale, and quickly took horse 
to be beforehand of the sun in their pursuit of royal disports. 

The Duke of Milan's envoy, Count Dallugo, whirled from 
banquet to hunting party, was soon laid up with gout. Im- 
pressed and a little bewildered, he reported that the new King 
was chiefly inclined to pleasure. He soon inclined to it also 
and concentrated his diplomacy on securing some of the fa- 


mous English dogs and horses for his master. Lord Hastings 
wrote complacently to the court of France in 1463 that the 
Earl of Warwick had so thoroughly trounced the Lancastrians 
and the Scots that the King had no need to interrupt his pleas- 
ures of the chase. The citizens of London threw open their 
gates to Edward in April of 1471, Commynes suggests, be- 
cause he owed money to goldsmiths, drapers, vintners, victual- 
lers, and was ardently championed by the ladies of the capital 
some of whom had probably received from him favours 
never engrossed upon the patent rolls. 

When Edward came to the throne at the age of nineteen, 
he stood six feet four inches tall and was no less comely than 
gallant. The Speaker of the Commons in his first Parliament 
was moved to touch upon 'the beauty of personage that it 
hath pleased almighty God to send you'. Commynes calls him 
'a most handsome prince and very valiant ... I don't re- 
member ever having seen a handsomer man than he was when 
Warwick drove him from England'. Edward's manner was as 
winning as his appearance. Dominic Mancini, who knew the 
English court well, reported that the King *was of a gentle 
nature and cheerful aspect: nevertheless should he assume an 
angry countenance he could appear very terrible to beholders. 
He was easy of access to his friends, and to others, even the 
least noticeable. Frequently he called to his side complete 
strangers, when he thought that they had come with the in- 
tention of addressing or beholding him more closely. He was 
so genial in his greeting, that if he saw a newcomer bewildered 
at his appearance and royal magnificence, he would give him 
courage to speak by laying a kindly hand upon his shoulder. 
To plaintiffs and to those who complained of injustice he lent 
a willing ear; charges against himself he contented with an 
excuse if he did not remove the cause. He was more favour- 
able than other princes to foreigners who visited his realm for 
trade or any other reason. He very seldom showed munificence 
and then only in moderation.* 

Like his predecessors, Edward was often called 'Your 
Grace', a title he shared with dukes and archbishops; not until 
the Tudor monarchs emphasized their power by ascending 


into a cloud of awe did the King become, always, *Your 

This witty and amiable young King, exuberantly sensual, 
fierce in battle as any of the fierce and valiant Plantagenet 
line and the first warrior of Europe (he fought some half a 
dozen major engagements and lost none), possessed a first-rate 
intelligence and the will to apply himself to building a strong 
monarchy. His optimism and his love of ease would sometimes 
lead htm into serious trouble, but once roused, he donned the 
lion's skin or the fox's with invincible elan. Though, at the 
beginning of his reign, he seemed content to let his great 
mentor, Warwick the Kingmaker, guide the realm while he 
himself enjoyed the gay perquisites of kingship, he quietly set 
about creating a council of able men devoted to the royal in- 
terest; and within a few years he was blunting Warwick's au- 
thority and taking into his own hands a little too sanguinely, 
a little too carelessly the direction of affairs. 

From the moment he ascended the throne he showed him- 
self eager to dispense justice and to heal the wounds of civil 
discord. When his treasurer, the Earl of Essex, 'felt and 
moved' the King to favour John Paston in one of the Paston 
land disputes, Edward replied that 'he would be your good 
lord therein as he would be to the poorest man in England. 
He would hold with you in your right; and as for favour, he 
will not show favour more to one man than to another, not to 
any in England*. 

Though Yorkist partisans grumbled, the King treated old 
enemies with kindness and worked to win their allegiance. 
After Henry Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, leader of the Lan- 
castrians still stirring up trouble in the North, had surrendered 
Bamburgh Castle in December 1462, King Edward tried ar- 
dently to make the brave and unfortunate Duke his friend. 
He granted him a full pardon, gave him a command in War- 
wick's army, and then showed him high favour at court: 

The King made full much of him; in so much that he lodged 
with the King in his own bed many nights, and sometimes 
rode a-hunting behind the King, the King having about him 
not passing six horses at the most, and yet three were of the 
Duke's men of Somerset. Edward made a great joust at West- 


minster, that he [Somerset] should see some manner sport of 
chivalry after his great labour and heaviness. And with great 
instance the King made him to take harness upon him and he 
rode in the place, but he would never cope with no man and 
no man might not cope with him, till the King prayed him to 
be merry and sent him a token and then he ran full justly and 
merrily, and his helm was a sorry hat of straw. 3 

But such melancholy gestures 1 and all of King Edward's 
kindnesses, were not enough to reconcile the young Duke to 
the House of York. The King saw to it that Parliament re- 
stored Beaufort to his forfeited titles and estates, and made 
him several gifts of ready money. He even appointed the Duke 
and a band of the Duke's men as his special bodyguard. When 
Edward moved northward in the summer of 1463 and the 
men of Northampton beheld, with horror, their King guarded 
by Somerset and 200 of his followerslike 'a lamb among 
wolves' they rose in wrath and fear, stormed the royal lodg- 
ings and would have slain Somerset before Edward's eyes, 
*but the King with fair speech and grave difficulty saved his 
life for that time, and that was pity*. After Edward got Somer- 
set safely away to Wales, he dispatched Somerset's men to 
garrison Newcastle, punctually paying their wages. The King 
also appreciated the loyal hearts, if not the violent tempers, 
of the citizens of Northampton: he full lovingly gave the 
commons a tun of wine that they should drink and make 
merry. Some fetched wine in basins, and some in cauldrons 
and some in bowls and some in pans and some in dishes'. 

1 Henry Beaufort's tristesse was doubtless genuine enoughEdward 
IVs father had slain his father, after all but his display of it perhaps 
shows touches of the aristocratic melancholy now becoming fashionable 
on the Continent, for Beaufort had been an intimate friend of the Duke 
of Burgundy's son Charles. Olivier de la Marche, the Burgundian chron- 
icler and master of ceremonies, took for his motto, 'Tant a souffert la 
Marche'. Charles d'Orle*ans anticipated Hamlet in his plaint, *Je suis 
celluy au cueur vestu de noir'. Even the much earthier Villon recorded, 
'Je m'esjouys et n'ay plaisir aucun'. Lorenzo the Magnificent well ad- 
vanced in his teens before Charles d'Orle*ans died shows the develop- 
ment of this attitude into zestful Renaissance gloom: 

Quant e bella giovinezza 

Che si fugge tuttavial 

Chi vuol esser lieto, sia: 

Di doman non c'e ceztezza. 


But the Duke could not endure his new Yorkist friends. In 
early December of 1463 he rode desperately for the North, 
having secretly written to his men in Newcastle to betray the 
town to him. He was almost caught in Durham, escaping 6 in 
his shirt and barefoot', and his Newcastle followers were 
forced to flee for their lives. He managed to join King Henry 
at Bamburgh Castle, which had again fallen to the Lancas- 
trians. But in May of 1464 Warwick's brother John, Lord 
Montagu, defeated his forces at Hexham Field, and the axe 
of the headsman put an end to Henry Beaufort's violent story. 

By this time Edward IV had married with no ceremony 
but in a style of high romance. On May Day of 1464 he had 
ridden out from Stony Stratford with a handful of attendants 
as if to go hunting. Instead, he galloped to Grafton Regis, the 
manor of Richard Woodville, Lord Rivers, and there with only 
the formidable Lady Rivers and two gentlewomen as witnesses 
he wedded the eldest daughter of the house, Elizabeth, a beau- 
tiful widow with two small boys. A few hours later Edward 
returned jauntily to Stony Stratford, the first King since the 
conquest to marry one of his subjects. In after years lurid 
stories of the wooing circulated; Dominic Mancini heard that 
even when the impassioned Edward held a dagger at her 
throat, Elizabeth would not yield her honour, and in admira- 
tion of her virtue he had made her his consort 

For four months he nursed his secret, while Warwick the 
Kingmaker confidently drove forward his design of marrying 
his sovereign to the sister-in-law of Louis XI, Bona of Savoy. 
When finally the King disclosed the news at a meeting of the 
Great Council, he discovered that while his subjects enjoyed 
reading romances, they had no patience with a royal love- 
match. From the mighty Warwick to the merest London shop- 
keeper, the people of England outspokenly disdained a Queen 
who was only the daughter of a lord, and old Yorkists were 
angry that the King had chosen a woman whose father, eldest 
brother, and first husband had all done battle for the House 
of Lancaster. 

Young Edward had undoubtedly married his Elizabeth *pour 
sa beaute et par amourette*, as a Burgundian chronicler re- 
ported, but he was also moved by shrewder considerations. 


Lord Rivers was a tough, handsome adventurer who had made 
his fortune by marrying the dowager Duchess of Bedford, 
Jacquetta of Luxembourg, and had sired almost a dozen sons 
and daughters. This ambitious Woodville clan, owing every- 
thing to the King, would be useful as a make-weight against 
the high-flying Nevilles; and if Lord Rivers and Anthony 
Woodville, Lord Scales men of very great valour', an Italian 
envoy found themhad once fought and suffered for Lan- 
caster, 2 the marriage would demonstrate that Edward meant 
to bury old hates. 

Yet, in the end, it turned out to be a fearful mistake, not 
only because it helped drive Warwick towards rebellion and 
saddled Edward with a swarm of hungry in-laws who did him 
little good, but also because Elizabeth Woodville was as am- 
bitious, cold, and shallow as she was beautiful. In the King's 
later years she devoted herself to building a Woodville party, 
for Edward allowed her a large license in bestowing offices, 
perhaps as the price of her quietly accepting his liaison with 
Jane Shore; 3 and the court became a hothouse of intrigue 
and covert feuds. Jealous, greedy, fearful of the rancours she 
had stirred in the breast of the Duke of Clarence, she urged 

fi That Lord Rivers became the King's father-in-law had its ironies, 
for Richard Woodville and his eldest son had years before felt the 
rough edge of the King's tongue, when Edward was only the seventeen- 
year-old Earl of March and lay at Calais in the winter of 1459-1460 
with the Earl of Warwick and Warwick's father, the Earl of Salisbury, 
the three earls preparing to invade Lancastrian England (see Epilogue). 
In the early morning of January 7 a small detachment of Warwick's 
men swooped down on Sandwich, captured Henry VTs fleet, surprised 
in their beds Lord Rivers and his wife, laid hands on Sir Anthony 
Woodville as he came riding into town, and carried ships and captives 
triumphantly back to Calais. *As for tidings,' one of the Fastens wrote 
soon afterwards, 'my Lord Rivers was brought to Calais and before the 
Lords with eight score torches, and there my Lord of Salisbury rated 
him, calling him knave's son, that he should be so rude to call him and 
these other lords traitors, for they shall be found the King's true liege- 
men when he should be found a traitor, etc. And my Lord of Warwick 
rated him and said his father was but a squire and brought up with 
King Henry V, and since then himself made by marriage, and also made 
Lord, and that it was not his part to have such language of lords, being 
of the King's blood. And my Lord of March rated him in like wise.' 

'Mancini, a good witness, declares that the Queen 'attracted to her 
party many strangers and introduced them to court, so that they alone 
should manage the public and private business of the Crown . . . give 
or sell offices, and finally rule the very King himself. 


Edward on to execute his foolish brother George (1478); and 
thus she incurred the enmity of his loyal and able youngest 
brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was, reports Man- 
cini, 'so overcome with grief for his brother, that he could not 
dissimulate so well but that he was overheard to say that he 
would one day avenge his brother's death'. Considering that 
her son Edward might ascend the throne as a minor, she en- 
tirely surrounded him with WoodviUes and Woodvffle sup- 
porters. 4 The moment Edward IV died, April 9, 1483, she 
launched a conspiracy to deprive Richard of Gloucester of the 
office of Protector of England during Edward Vs minority 
and thus herself set in motion the train of events that led to 
Richard's usurpation of the throne. 

Even before she had been five years a Queen, Elizabeth was 
credited in a popular report that is backed, in its essentials, by 
substantial evidence 5 with having procured the death of an 
earl because he had pricked her vanity. About the time of her 
coronation, in May of 1465, the Earl of Desmond, Deputy 
Lieutenant of Ireland, had come to England in order to clear 
himself of some charges brought against Timi and to pay hom- 
age to the King. Desmond was a man after Edward's own 
heart: cultivated, brave, convivial. One day when they were 
out hunting, Edward, in his direct and merry way, inquired 
of Desmond what he thought of the royal marriage. Desmond 
replied frankly: he esteemed the Queen's beauty and virtues 
but he thought the King would have done better to marry a 
Princess who would have secured him a foreign alliance. Ed- 
ward accepted this answer in the spirit in which he had asked 
the question and sent Desmond back to Ireland loaded with 
presents. A little later, in casual jest, he reported the Earl's 
words to Elizabeth being not yet well schooled in his Queen's 
character. Coldly furious, she dissembled her feelings and 
grimly awaited an opportunity to settle accounts with Des- 

When, in 1467, the Earl of Worcester became Deputy Lieu- 

4 Sir Thomas More: *Everyone as he was nearest of kin unto the 
Queen, so was planted next about the Prince . . . whereby her blood 
might of youth [Le. from his childhood] be rooted in the Prince's favour.' 

5 See Kendall, Richard the Third, p. 444, note 8 of Chap. VJH. 


tenant of Ireland, he agreed to give the Queen her revenge. 
Desmond was indicted on a flimsy charge, and when he 
bravely came in to face his accusers, he was cast into prison 
and condemned to be beheaded. Shortly after he suffered on 
the block, two small sons of his were cruelly murdered. It is 
said that the Queen stole the King's signet to seal the death 
warrant; there is evidence that the King was not pleased with 
the news of Desmond's execution. By this time, probably, Ed- 
ward was finding more amiable companions for his bed. 

However mean her nature, Queen Elizabeth undoubtedly 
contributed to the developing sophistication of King Edward's 
household. Since so many people grudged her marriage be- 
cause she was a mere lord's daughter, the Woodvilles were 
eager to remind the realm that, on her mother's side, she was 
the niece of the Count of St. Pol, one of the powers of Europe 
and an ornament of the court of Burgundy. That court was 
then the most magnificent in the western world, and the Queen 
and her kin set about creating in the royal household a tone 
of Burgundian elegance, a task made easier by the fact that 
close economic and political ties already existed between Eng- 
land and the dominions of Duke Philip the Good. 

King Edward invited to his Queen's coronation her younger 
uncle, Jacques de Luxembourg, Seigneur de Richebourg; and 
'Lord Jakes', as the Londoners dubbed him with cheerful irrev- 
erence (Jakes privy), and his train of Burgundian knights 
lent their glittering presences to the jousts that inevitably con- 
cluded the coronation ceremonies. 

In the spring of 1466 a group of visiting Bohemians headed 
by the Lord of Rozmital were deeply impressed by the de- 
corum of the English Court. The King lodged them hand- 
somely, put a herald and a royal councillor at their service, 
and showed the amplitude of his power with a banquet of- 
fering a choice of fifty courses 'as is then* custom', recorded 
one of the party. 

The ceremony which most struck the visitors, however, was 
the 'churching' of Queen Elizabeth, who had given birth to her 
first child, Elizabeth, in February. A procession of ecclesiastics, 
peers and peeresses, minstrels, heralds, conveyed the Queen 
to the service in the Abbey and from the Abbey to a banquet 


at Westminster Palace. The Lord of Rozmital dined alone at 
the King's table with 'the King's mightiest Earl'-undoubtedly 
Warwick-f or etiquette forbade the King himself to be present 
In the course of the dinner, royal gifts were distributed to the 
musicians and heralds and 'all who had been rewarded ran 
around the table shouting out what the King had given them 9 . 

The guests filled four large chambers, through which War- 
wick conducted the Lord of Rozmital in order that he might 
behold the haughty and beautiful Queen of England. In a 
room bedecked with tapestries Elizabeth sat alone at table on 
a golden chair, attended by her mother and Edward's sister 
Margaret, who were required to kneel when the Queen ad- 
dressed them. Not until the first course had been served were 
they permitted to sit, but the ladies in waiting remained kneel- 
ing for the full three hours that the banquet lasted, the Queen 
not deigning to utter a word to anyone. When the tables had 
been removed for merrymaking, the Queen's mother resumed 
her kneeling posture, and the Princess Margaret, even while 
dancing, was careful to make many curtsies to Her Highness. 

Queen Elizabeth's cultivated brother Anthony, Lord Scales 
(later Earl Rivers), imitating the flamboyant chivalry of 
Duke Philip of Burgundy, had already become the premier 
knight of English tournaments. On an April morning in 1465 
Lord Scales was holding converse with the Queen, kneeling 
before her with his bonnet sitting on the floor beside him. 
Suddenly the ladies of the court surrounded him; one of 
them tied round his shapely thigh a collar of gold and pearls 
with 'a noble flower of souvenance enamelled and in man- 
ner of an emprise' and dropped into his bonnet a little roll of 
parchment bound with gold thread. Thus Anthony Woodville 
learned that he was to perform a two-day joust with some 
nobleman e of four lineages and without reproach'. Nucelles 
Pursuivant carried this challenge to Philip the Good's son 
Anthony, Bastard of Burgundy, one of the great jousters of 
the age, who, in the presence of his father and an array of 
courtiers, duly touched the flower of souvenance by way of 
accepting the emprise. Nucelles did well for himself, for the 
Bastard gave him 'the rich gown furred with sable* that he 
wore during the ceremony of touching the emprise and also 


a 'doublet of black velvet garnished with arming points, and 
the slits of the doublet sleeves clasped with clasps of gold'. 

Two years after, in the late spring of 1467, the Bastard of 
Burgundy fulfilled his mission. The moment the news arrived 
that he was coming, the sheriffs of London were ordered to 
prepare lists in West Smithfield, ninety yards long and eighty 
yards wide; under their supervision workmen set about 
smoothing the ground with loads of gravel and building two 
grandstands, one for the King and court, a smaller one for 
the Mayor and chief citizens. On May 29 the Bastard of Bur- 
gundy and his party sailed up the Thames in 'four carvels of 
forestage' fluttering with pennants and banners and tapestries. 
Next morning John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, Constable of 
England and therefore arbiter of chivalry, escorted the Bastard 
to the palace of the Bishop of Salisbury in Fleet Street, which 
was 'richly apparelled with arras and hanged with beds of 
cloth of gold'; the Bishop also put his country house in Chelsea 
at the Bastard's disposal so that he might 'essay his harness 

On Thursday, June 11, began what was to be the most fa- 
mous English joust of the century. Peers and Knights of the 
Shire, in London to attend Parliament, swelled the crowd of 
citizens making their way to Smithfield. Olivier de La Marche, 
who had accompanied the Bastard of Burgundy, stored up 
all the details of the scene. He approved of the royal stage, 
Very spacious and made in such a manner that there was an 
ascent by steps to the upper part where the King sat. He was 
clothed in purple, having the Garter on his thigh, and a thick 
staff in his hand; and truly he seemed a person well worthy 
to be King, for he was a tall, handsome Prince, kingly in man- 
ner. An earl held the sword of state before him, a little on one 
side; and around his throne were grouped twenty or twenty- 
five councillors, all with white hair; and they resembled sena- 
tors set there together to counsel their master'. Below the 
King hi massed ranks sat knights, esquires, and archers of 
the Crown. 

Soon after Edward had assumed his state, the Mayor of 
London appeared at the head of a procession of aldermen 
and justices. The Mayor had his sword borne before him, but 


when he and his fellows kneeled before the King, the Mayor's 
sword-bearer held the point downwards in token of submis- 
sion. Lord Scales now rode into the field, preceded by the 
Duke of Clarence and the Earl of Arundel bearing two hel- 
mets and foUowed by other lords carrying spears and swords. 
After doing reverence to the King, Scales entered his pavilion 
to arm himself. The Bastard of Burgundy then made his ap- 
pearance; he preferred to don his armour in the open. 

Finally the trumpets sounded, the two knights on their 
destriers thundered down the lists, lances couched. Neither 
scored a hit. Discarding much of their armour, they then 
charged at each other brandishing swords, but the Bastard's 
horse, somehow ramming its head into Scales' saddle, fell to 
the ground atop its rider. After the Bastard had been extricated 
and Scales had proved that he used no illegal armour on his 
saddle, King Edward asked the shaken Burgundian if he 
wished another mount. The Bastard replied that 'it was no 
season', and went to his chambers. Grimly he told Olivier 
de La Marche, 'Doubt not: he has fought a beast today, and 
tomorrow he shall fight a man'. 

Next day they were to joust on foot with spears, then axes, 
but 'the King beholding the casting spears right jeopardous 
and right perilous, said, in as much as it was but an act of 
pleasaunce he would not have none such mischievous weap- 
ons used before him'. So Scales and the Bastard laid on with 
their axes, Scales striking with the head and his adversary 
with the small end of the blade. Fiercely they hacked at 
each other, axes clanging on armour, until the combat be- 
came so violent that 'the King cast his staff, and with a high 
voice, cried "Whoo!" Notwithstanding, in the departing there 
were given two or three great strokes', but at the King's com- 
mand the heated warriors took each other by the hand and 
promised 'to love together as brothers in arms*. Scales won 
the admiration of the spectators by daring to fight with his 
visor up, and English versions of the combat suggest that the 
King intervened when his brother-in-law was getting the bet- 
ter of the Bastard; La Marche, on the other hand, asserted 
that he inspected Scale's armour and found great gashes in 
it from the under point of the Bastard's axe. 


By the time Scales and the Bastard met in the lists (1467), 
King Edward, though still spending goodly sums, had already 
begun his conquest of debt. Determined to avoid the discon- 
tents which Henry VFs wasteful government had excited, he 
made a promise to Parliament in his frank, engaging manner: 
'John Say [Speaker of the Commons], and ye, sirs, come to 
this my Court of Parliament for the commons of this my 
land, the cause why I have called and summoned this my pres- 
ent Parliament is that I purpose to live upon my own and not 
to charge my subjects but in great need and urgent causes 
concerning more the weal of themself, and also the defence 
of them and of this my realm, rather than my own pleasure.' 
But Edward's struggle with Warwick interrupted his design of 
establishing a solvent monarchy. 

The short-lived regime of the Kingmaker (October, 1470 
March, 1471) provided a public illustration of the importance 
of regal magnificence. As soon as Warwick entered London 
in October of 1470, King Henry was led from the Tower, 
robed in a long gown of blue velvet, and installed in the Pal- 
ace of the Bishop of London. Six months later, as King Ed- 
ward, having suddenly landed in Yorkshire, was driving 
south towards the capital, the Kingmaker's brother George, 
Archbishop of York, attempted to hearten the Londoners by 
parading Henry VI about the streets. But he was escorted by 
only a thin shell of armed men, he slumped on his horse lack- 
lustre of eye, and worst of all, he was clad in the same gown 
he had been wearing when he was removed from the Tower. 
His progress was 'more liker a play than a showing of a prince 
to win men's hearts, for by this mean he lost many and won 
none or right few, and ever he was showed in a long blue 
gown of velvet as though he had no more to change with 9 . 

During the fugitive Edward's enforced sojourn in the Low 
Countries, he had plenty of time to observe the style of the 
Burgundian court. He spent several days with Duke Charles 
himself, and for a month he lived at Bruges in the palace of 
the Seigneur de la Gruthuyse, Governor of Holland. Charles 
of Burgundy, as cultured as he was violent of temper, con- 
tinued the multi-faceted ceremonial that had made his fa- 
ther's household the most famous in Europe. The greatness 


of 'The Grand Duke of the West' was expressed in a rhetoric 
of furs and velvets and tapestries and jewels, in fantastic 
tournaments where knights wore golden chains to symbolize 
their bondage to love, in the creation of Flemish illuminators 
and bookbinders and weavers and tailors, in the music of the 
most brilliant composers then in Europe, in paintings of 
Memling and Van Der Goes and Van Eyck, in noble libraries 
and in bizarre palaces where unwary visitors had dust blown 
in their eyes or were dumped by a collapsing bridge into a 
pond, and in a severe, minutely regulated decorum that, 
massing to the court of Spain in the sixteenth century, reached 
ts final efflorescence at the Versailles of Louis X3V. 

When a relative of the Duke of Brittany visited the wife of 
he Count of Charolais (Charles, then Philip's heir), it re- 
quired a council of state to decide that the visitor must make 
wo obeisances, upon which the Countess might advance three 
teps. A dinner which Charolais gave for Margaret of Anjou 
it Bruges provoked an intricate display of the dialectic of 
itiquette. Before the meal, the refugee Queen invited the 
Dount to wash with her. 'Knowing his duty and following 
a the footsteps of his father [as a pattern of courtesy]/ he 
lolitely refused despite reiterated invitations. When water 
/as brought for Margaret's young Prince, the contest in 
lanners started afresh. The Count would have no part of 
/ashing with the son of a king, though driven from his king- 
om, while Margaret and Prince Edward averred that such 
liserable persons as they did not deserve the honour which 
Charles insisted on paying them. Protestations became heated 
rhile the dinner cooled, but Charolais' inverted pride was 
iflexible. That evening the court at Bruges hummed with 
itense discussions of the issue. Messengers sped to Duke 
hilip at Hesdin with news of this weighty affair of protocol. 
L great debate ensued between Philippe Pot and Philippe 
e Croy. Asked for his opinion by the Duke himself, the 
barometer Chastellain judiciously agreed with Pot that, far 
om being 'over nice*, as Croy maintained, the Count of 
harolais had properly upheld the decorum of the Court of 


After King Edward regained his throne in the spring of 
1471, and became the unchallenged master of his realm, he 
set about in good earnest to clear off his debts, enlarge his 
revenue, and reorganize his household. 

From the first years of his reign, the King had enthusiasti- 
cally embarked on a career in trade, exporting thousands of 
broadcloths and sacks of wool He conducted his operations 
through 'alien factors', probably to avoid playing favourites 
among his native merchants; and his ventures soon became 
so extensive that his chief factors had to employ sub-factors 
to help handle the King's flourishing business. By 1470, 
though now engaged in his struggle with Warwick, Edward 
had become an importer as well. In February of that year, 
at the port of London alone, twenty-five ships arrived 01 
departed with royal cargoes; the imports included figs, raisins, 
oil, sugar, oranges, hops, copper, wainscots, fans, soap, 
spectacles, and one popinjay. The following June an Italian 
carrack, docking at Sandwich, unloaded 390 bales of woad 
and 27 butts of sweet wine consigned by 'John de Nigro, fac- 
tor of Alan Mounton, factor of the king', and 613 bales of 
woad, 32 barrels of alum, 7 bales of wax, 23 bales of 'paper 
scribable', 14 sets of harness, white wine, wormseed, and 
other products shipped by Thomas de Pounte, 'factor of Alan 
Mounton, factor of the King*. 

^ In the last half of his reign Edward expanded his opera- 
tions: he began to export quantities of tin and lead; he pur- 
chased a number of ships-to strengthen the royal navy as 
well as to turn a profit-and he encouraged native ship-build- 
ing by allowing a new vessel to make its first voyage free of 
customs duties and subsidies. The Croyland chronicler, who 
knew him well, 8 observes that he filled his treasury 'out of 
his own substance and by the exercise of his own energies 
like a private individual living by trade'. 

King Edward likewise overhauled the leaky Customs serv- 
ice, appointing 'men of remarkable shrewdness'; he developed 
a system of auditors and surveyors to increase the yield of 

The -material .for this portion of the Chronicle was probably fur- 
fae by John R^, Bishop of Lincoln, one of Edward's best dipS- 


the royal domain; he scrutinized land titles in order to exact 
fines from those who had illegally seized property; and he 
reorganized the royal administration in more ways 'that can 
possibly be conceived by a man who is inexperienced in such 
matters'. The Truce of Picquigny (1475) brought him an 
annual subsidy 7 of 10,000 from Louis XI. 

Edward possessed a remarkable talent for managing peo- 
ple as well as finances. Forced loans had long been unpopu- 
lar; besides, they had to be repaid. Gifts offered a richer 
source of revenue, and who could better charm purses than 
the genial King of England? The projected expedition to 
France (of 1475) gave him a patriotic theme. He began by 
calling before him individually his lords spiritual and tem- 
poral and gently inquiring what they might be willing to 
grant him toward the war. They readily promised goodly 
sums, perhaps not quite aware what they were doing. Edward 
-then summoned the Mayor and aldermen of London and ap- 
plied the same treatment. It worked so well that the King 
sent for all the wealthier citizens of the capital, women as 
well as men, and again reaped a good harvest. According to 
reports, one widowed lady, 'much abounding in substance 
and no less grown in years', offered 20 but upon receiving a 
kiss from the handsomest man hi Europe promptly doubled 
the gift. 

Edward then took to the road. The kingdom was small, 
the King had a marvellous memory for names and faces and 
the power they represented. 8 He knew all his lords spiritual 
and temporal., fewer than one hundred men; he knew the 
principal citizens of London and of the larger provincial 
towns; he knew most of the gentry in each county. The close 
watch he kept upon affairs and his wide acquaintance with 
his subjects are revealed in a mishap that befell the Cely fam- 

7 Tribute,* said the English; Louis called it a pension. 

8 'Men of every rank wondered that [King Edward] a man so fond of 
boon companionship . . . and sensual enjoyments, should have had a 
memory so retentive that the names and estates used to recur to him, 
just as though he had been in the habit of seeing them daily, of nearly 
all the persons dispersed throughout the counties of this kingdom; and 
this, even if in the districts in which they lived they held the rank only 
of a private gentleman/ Croyland Chronicle, p. 484. 


fly. One autumn afternoon in 1481, when old Richard Cely 
and his son Richard were hunting with their greyhounds, a 
hart from a royal forest in Essex was driven across the 
Thames and killed at Dartford. Young Richard wrote anx- 
iously to his brother George that on the information of a 
man named Brandon they were indicted for the slaying of 
the hart 'the which we never saw nor knew of which, indeed, 
had been killed, Richard declared, by Brandon or his men. 
Young Richard betook himself to Sir Thomas Mongomery, 
Steward of the Forest of Essex. After protesting his inno- 
cence, he presented Sir Thomas with 100s, 'the value of a 
pipe of wine', and deposited 3s 4d in the palm of one of Sir 
Thomas's gentlemen; and thus Mongomery became their 'spe- 
cial good master in this matter'. Now the Celys, though Mer- 
chants of the Staple and gentlemen landowners in Essex, 
held no offices in London and were not among the wealthiest 
merchants of the capital. Yet Richard Cely had hurried to Sir 
Thomas Mongomery, not because he was so much troubled 
by the indictment itself but in order to have us out of the book 
ever it be showed the King*. 

An Italian visitor to England in the spring of 1475 has left 
an account of the way in which Edward 'plucked out the 
feathers of his magpies without making them cry out'. Jour- 
neying from place to place, the King called before him all 
those worth .40 or more and explained that hi order to in- 
vade France he must have money. 'Everyone seemed to give 
willingly. I have frequently seen our neighbours here who 
were summoned before the king, and when they went they 
looked as if they were going to the gallows; when they re- 
turned they were joyful, saying that they had spoken to the 
King and that he had spoken to them so benignly that they 
did not regret the money they had paid From what I have 
heard, the King adopted this method: when anyone went 
before him, he gave him a welcome as if he had known 
always. After some time he asked him what he could pay of 
bis free will toward this expedition. If the man offered some- 
thing proper, he [the King] had his notary ready, who took 
down the name and the amount. If the King thought other- 
wise, he told him, "Such a one, who is poorer than you, has 


paid so much; you, who are richer, can easily pay more"; and 
thus by fair words he brought him up to the mark. And in 
this way it is argued that he has extracted a very large amount 
of money/ 

But King Edward meant to cut down wasteful expenditure 
as well as to increase his income. After he had reconquered 
his kingdom, in the spring of 1471, he turned his mind to 
creating a royal household which if it did not rival the ex- 
travagant court of Burgundy, might none the less express, 
economically, the princely tastes of the House of York. When 
Louis de la Gruthuyse, with whom the fugitive Edward had 
dwelt at Bruges, arrived in September, 1472, to be suitably 
rewarded for his hospitality by his erstwhile guest, the en- 
tertainment devised for the Burgundian lord, minutely de- 
scribed by Bluemantle Pursuivant, reveals the heightened 
manners of the English court. 

As soon as Gruthuyse arrived at Windsor, the Lord Cham- 
berlain, Hastings, conducted him to greet the King and Queen 
and then escorted him to the three chambers *richly hanged 
with cloths of arras and beds of estate* which had been pre- 
pared for his sojourn. After Gruthuyse had supped with Lord 
Hastings, they repaired again to the king, who led them to 
the queen's principal chamber. A tableau of royal domesticity 
was unfolded for the visitor's benefit Queen Elizabeth sat 
with her ladies playing various bowling games with pins of 
ivory. The minstrels struck up and there was dancing, the 
King treading a measure with little Elizabeth, his eldest 
daughter. Bluemantle does not bother to say so, but at the end 
of the evening the King and Gruthuyse undoubtedly shared 
a *void', a parting cup of ypocras and wafers and spices. The 
next morning- Gruthuyse heard the Mass of Our Lady sung 
by the choristers and children of the royal chapel. The King 
presented his guest with a covered cup of gold garnished with 
precious stones including a piece of unicorn's horn some 
seven inches long. Edward and Gruthuyse then spent the day 
hunting, and Gruthuyse accumulated more treasures: the 
half dozen bucks they had coursed with greyhounds and tack- 
hounds, the King's own horse *a fair hobby* and a cross 
bow encased in velvet of the King's colours stamped wife 


the royal arms and badges. Though it was almost night by the 
time they gave over the chase, Edward insisted on showing 
his visitor the royal gardens and ^vineyard of pleasure'. 

In the evening Queen Elizabeth entertained with a banquet 
in her chambers. The Lord Gruthuyse and his son dined at 
the royal board; a lower table exhibited *a great view of ladies, 
all on one side 5 , and at a table in the outer chamber the 
Queen's gentlewomen sat in a row facing Gruthuyse's prin- 
cipal servants. After supper the boards were removed, the 
minstrels sounded a tune, and there was dancing again. 

About nine o'clock the King and Queen and a train of 
courtiers accompanied Gruthuyse to three 'chambers of 
pleasaunce all hanged with white silk and linen cloth and afl 
the floors covered with carpets'. The first chamber displayed 
a bed 'of as good down as could be got', draped with cloth of 
gold furred with ermine and canopied in cloth of gold, the 
side curtains being of white sarcenet The second chamber, 
decorated all in white, contained a feather-bedded couch 
Changed with a tent knit like a net* and a cupboard. In the 
third chamber baths stood ready 'covered with tents of white 
cloth". The King and Queen left their guest to the ministrations 
of the Lord Chamberlain. Hastings presided over the disrob- 
ing of Gruthuyse, disrobed himself, and both men entered 
the baths. When they had soaked in the warm water, they 
partook of green ginger, diverse syrups, comfits and ypocras, 

A few days later, King Edward led Gruthuyse before an 
assembly of the three estates of Parliament and created him 
Earl of Winchester. Then followed a banquet, during which 
poor Garter King of Arms was deprived of the pleasure of 
crying TLargesse!' when Gruthuyse distributed generous tips, 
because he had *an impediment hi his tongue*. There had 
been of course a procession, to the Abbey: for in this age 
the Crown in person as well as the Crown jewels must be ex- 
hibited. Few kings could grace a procession like the towering 
Edward of York clad in a gown of cloth of gold lined with 
red satin. When he left Bruges early in 1471 to sail for the 
recooquest of his realm, he planned to go by barge to the 
aearby town of Damme; but on learning that the good peo- 
fie of the city had been hoping for a sigjht of his imposing 


presence, he cheerfully walked to Damme to give his hosts 

About the time that Gruthuyse came to England, King Ed- 
ward was setting in motion the reorganization of his house- 
hold. Ordinances of previous kings were searched for prece- 
dents; Edward's officers proposed ways of increasing the effi- 
ciency of their administration; and finally a council of lords 
spiritual and temporal that included the Dukes of Clarence 
and Gloucester as well as 'the wise and discreet judges and 
other sad, advised, and well learned men of England* con- 
tributed their experience to the undertaking. As a result of 
these deliberations keyed to the theme, The King will have 
his goods dispended but not wasted' an elaborate set of regu- 
lations was drawn up, the famous Black Book of the House- 
hold of Edward IV. This ordinance established the numbers 
and grades of attendants, their duties, their allowances of food 
and fuel and light. Chief emphasis fell upon the e below-stairs 5 
machinery to enforce allowances and control expenditure in 
this honourable household and lantern of England*. 

The refreshments for the King at All-Night one loaf of 
bread, half a gallon of wine when Squires for the Body un- 
dressed him as he talked with his familiars, and truckle-beds 
were pulled out for these Squires to sleep on; the duties of 
the Serjeant of Confectionery; the number of candles nightly 
allowed the Serjeant-usher of the Countinghouse; where the 
Yeoman of the Laundrey ate; how the Serjeant of the Ewery 
and Nappery was to stable his horses; the servants that a 
duke *in this court sitting in the King's Chamber shall have 
eating in the hall' every cost and motion of the household 
was regulated. The minuteness of specification is like an heroic 
spell to banish waste and inefficiency and forever freeze the 
court of Edward IV into a magnificent, but economical, de- 
corum compounded of a thousand measured attitudes, 

At the heart of the royal court stood the King's Chamber, 
swathed in the service, honorific and menial, of more than 
400 persons. Physically the chamber consisted of three apart- 
ments: the outer or audience chamber, where King Edward 
received ambassadors and dined in state; the inner or privy 
chamber, where he took counsel with advisers or enjoyed a 


game of cards, and the bed chamber to which he might re- 
tire for still more privacy. The Lord Chamberlain, Edward's 
favourite, William Lord Hastings, presided over this establish- 
ment, 'Chief Head of rulers in the King's chamber'. The 
hierarchy of stately attendance numbered Knights for the 
Body, alternating eight week tours of duty, and the more 
numerous King's Knights; Squires for the Body, usually four; 
Squires for the Household, twenty of whom were always wait- 
ing *upon the King's person in riding and going at all times 
and to help serve his table from the surveying board'. These 
Squires were 'accustomed winter and summer in afternoons 
and in evenings, to draw to lords' chambers within court, 
there to keep honest company after their cunning, hi talking 
of chronicles of kings and of other policies, or in piping or 
harping, singing, to help occupy the court and accompany 

Next in importance after the Knights and Squires came 
four Gentlemen Ushers, learned in 'all the customs and cere- 
monies used about the king', who enforced the protocol of 
the royal chamber and supervised the Yeomen of the Crown 
*most seemly persons, cleanly and strongest archers, bold 
men' and the slightly less honourable Yeomen of the Cham- 
ber, whose duty it was to set boards, hold torches, watch the 
King, go messages'. At the bottom of the heap ten Grooms 
of the Chamber and four pages tended the fires and made the 
beds and did the cleaning, the pages being directed to see 
that dogs did not dirty the rooms. 

At his board in the Chamber, Edward was served by a 
'Sewer for the King 5 , who was expected to be full cunning* 
ia the elaborate ceremonial of presenting dishes and who was 
required to talk *with the master cook of the King's diets and 
appetites'; but before the sewer bore dishes to the table, they 
had to be inspected by the 'Surveyor for the King*. At Ed- 
ward's side when he ate stood a Doctor of Physic 'counselling 
or answering to the King's grace which diet is best'. 

A master surgeon was on hand too, but he was usually 
relegated to the hall. To him were delivered the old cloths 
and towels of the nappery, out of which he made 'plasters for 
the sick officers of the court'. The King's barber was to be 


treated 'after that he standeth in degree, gentlemen, yeoman, 
or groom'. When he shaved the King, a Knight or Squire for 
the Body was required to be present, whether to add dignity 
to the occasion or to keep a careful eye upon the razor, the 
Black Book does not say. "This barber shall have every Satur- 
day at night, if it please the King to cleanse his head, legs, or 
feet, and for his shaving, two loaves, one pitcher of wine.* 
Thirteen minstrels were ordained to make music for court 
ceremonies and to announce entries and departures of the 
King by 'blowings and pipings'; they played trumpets, 
shawms, and small pipes, 'and some are string men coming 
to this court at five feasts of the year*. The royal chapel, 
famous all over Europe for the beauty of its singing, was 
staffed with a Dean, twenty-six clerks and chaplains 'clean 
voiced, eloquent in reading, sufficient in organ-playing* and 
eight Children of the Chapel, who probably enjoyed the serv- 
ices, along with the henchmen and royal wards, of the 'Mas- 
ter of Grammar*. 

The Black Book also lays down the conditions under which 
lords were to be entertained at court, the number of attend- 
ants they might bring with them and the allowance of food 
and light and fuel they were permitted. These attendants, to- 
gether with the servants of the chief functionaries below the 
rank of Squire of the Body, ate in the hall, a swarm of 
men which included 'strangers* whom the marshal considered 
important enough to receive the King's hospitality. 

To supply and maintain and keep the accounts of this 
'Household of Regal Magnificence* a *Domus Providencie' or 
Providing Household worked busily behind the scenes. Hie 
Steward, with his white wand of office, the Treasurer of the 
Household, the second estate next the Steward*, and the 
Comptroller, sitting 'at the board of doom [judgement] 
within the household, that is, at the green cloth in the count- 
inghouse', ruled the invisible world that propped the royal 
show. The principal duties of the countrngjiouse fell upon the 
Cofferer, the two Clerks of the Green Cloth, and the Clerk of 
Comptrolment, who had in their charge the Check-roll, the 
master list of those entitled to wages and allowances of food 
and fuel in the household. John Paston learned, from his 


brother Clement, that Ms son John, trying to make his way 
*in the King's house 5 in the summer of 1461, was unfortunately 
*not taken as none of that house; for the cooks he not charged 
to serve him, nor the sewer to give him no dish, for the sewers 
will not take no men no dishes till they be commanded by 
the comptroller'. 

The clerks of the Countinghouse received a daily 'breve- 
ment* or accounting from the multiplicity of offices which 
fed or provisioned the household-the bakehouse, the pantry, 
the butlery of ale, pitcher-house and cup-house, Great 
Spicery, acatry or meat purchasing, and a dozen others. 

The Black Book estimated the cost of maintaining the royal 
household at 13,000 a year, a sum a little greater than that 
which the King actually expended towards the end of his life. 
Though contemporaries regarded his household as becom- 
ingly splendid, Edward spent less money on it than either 
Henry VI or Henry VH. 

Hie court of Edward IV was graced by taste and learning 
as well as more obvious grandeurs. In the earliest letter of 
King Edward that has survived, written when he was twelve, 
he and his brother Edmund (killed at Wakefield, 1460) re- 
ported to their father that, 'and where ye command us by your 
said letters to attend specially to our learning in our young 
age that should cause us to grow to honour and worship in 
our old age, please it your highness to wit that we have at- 
tended our learning since we came hither, and shall here- 
after'. Edward was literate in Latin. Letters he wrote in French 
are extant, and in the famous interview with Louis XI on the 
bridge at Picquigny in 1475, Edward and his 'adversary of 
France* conversed alone for some time. Warwick the King- 
maker too spoke and wrote French easily as did Edward's 
closest friend, the Lord Chamberlain Hastings, and other no- 
bles. After Edward returned from his enforced residence in 
the Low Countries, where he had seen the library of the 
Seigneur de la Gruthuyse, second only to the ducal library 
which was one of the wonders of Europe, he began to enlarge 
bis collection of books; scribes and illuminators of Bruges 
were set to work to produce beautiful manuscripts, more than 
a score of which are preserved in the British Museum. 


The wardrobe accounts of 1480 include payments for the 
binding of six of these folios in velvet and blue and black 
silk, with laces and tassels of silk, buttons of blue silk and 
gold and copper, and gilt clasps decorated with roses and the 
royal arms. When the King went down to Eltham to hunt, a 
number of these tomes, packed in 'coffins of fir' were sent 
along. Edward's library contained histories Froissart's works 
and the writings of Josephus and Titus Livius as well as 
Waurin's and Hardyng's and Capgrave's chronicles which 
were dedicated to him French translations of Boccaccio's 
Decameron and De Casibus and St. Augustine's De Civitate 
Dei and conventional religious tracts like La Forteresse de 
Foi. A Yeoman of the Crown acted as keeper of the King's 
books, and when Edward took to the road, a place was set 
aside in one of the carts carrying household stuff for the trans- 
port of such volumes as it pleased the King to take with him. 
The education of the King's elder son and heir, Edward, 
elaborately prescribed in a set of ordinances issued for the 
instruction of bis tutors, foreshadows the emphasis which the 
Tudor Age was to place upon the learning of its princes. Ed- 
ward began his formal schooling at the age of three when he 
was sent to dwell at Ludlow Castle as nominal head of the 
Council in the Marches of Wales. He was given an impressive 
household, his chief officers being John Alcock, Bishop of 
Rochester, president of the council and principal teacher of 
the Prince; the accomplished Anthony WoodvSHe, Earl 
Rivers, his governor; and Lord Richard Grey (the Queen's 
younger son by her first marriage), his councillor. 

The Prince was to arise every morning "at a convenient 
hour, according to his age", hear matins in his chamber, go, 
as soon as he was dressed, to his chapel or closet to attend 
mass, after mass eat his breakfast, between breakfast and din- 
ner give his time to "such virtuous learning as his age shall 
suffer to receive", during dinner listen to the reading of "such 
noble stories as behooveth to a prince to understand and 
know", and after dinner return again to his learning. Later 
in the day he was to be given instruction in "such convenient 
disports and exercises as behooveth his estate to have experi- 


ence in", then he was to go to evensong, and after evensong 
he was to eat his supper. Only when supper was over was the 
poor little fellow to be allowed to relax and enjoy "all such 
honest disports as may be conveniently devised for his recrea- 
tion". But happily eight o'clock was to find him in bed with 
the curtains drawn, and those who attended at the last cere- 
monies of the ceremonious day were bidden to "enforce 
themselves to make him merry and joyous towards his bed". 
Around that bed careful watch was to be kept every night 
and all night, and that disease might not steal in and rob the 
King of God's "precious sonne and gift and our most desired 
treasure", a physician and a surgeon were to be ever at hand. 
Nor was the moral welfare of the child forgotten; for no 
swearing or ribald words were to be tolerated in his house- 
hold, least of all in his presence, and no "customable swearer, 
brawler, backbiter, common hazarder, [or] adulterer" was to 
be retained hi his service. 9 

Shortly before King Edward died, these household regula- 
tions were revised to fit the advancing years of the Prince, 
now twelve; he was, for example, permitted to stay up until 
nine P.M. By this time an Italian humanist, seeking his for- 
tune in England, had dedicated a poem to him and praised his 
learned accomplishments. 

In other ways, too, King Edward and his family signalled 
their forward-looking concern for education: the craft of 
printing was introduced into England under the auspices of 
the House of York. Toward the end of the 1460's, William 
Caxton, merchant adventurer, gave up his governorship of 
the English merchants in the Low Countries to take service 
with King Edward's sister Margaret, now Duchess of Bur- 
gundy. She encouraged him to finish his translation of Le 
Recueil des Histoires de Troyes and probably prompted the 
dedication of one of the first books he printed in Bruges, The 
Game and Playe of the Chesse, to the Duke of Clarence, 
Margaret's favourite brother. When Caxton returned to his 

* ? c ?? fi S f ,*T d ihe Foiirth > n ' pp ' 55 ~ 56 '" for to entire ordinance, 
seeX C. HalliweU, Letters of the King of England, London, 1846, 1, pp. 

13O 'IT., 


native London in 1476 to set up a printing press at the Sign 
of the Red Pale in Westminster, he undoubtedly came armed 
with letters of introduction from Duchess Margaret to the 
English court. 

He immediately found patrons in the royal family and 
among the lords of Yorkist England. He dedicated volumes 
to Edward, to Edward's son the Prince of Wales, and to Ed- 
ward's brother Richard (Richard HI). Caxton left the print- 
ing of the classics to the presses of France and Italy; the works 
he produced reflect the interests of the newly developed read- 
ing public. He translated the Mirror of the World for that 
Vorshipful man, Hugh Bryce, alderman and citizen of Lon- 
don', printed chronicles and devotional exercises and books 
of manners and the poetry of Chaucer and Gower and 

Edward and his brother Richard too were princely build- 
ers. The Croyland chronicler asserts that when it came to 
adorning palaces and churches, and 'building castles, colleges 
and other distinguished places, not one of his predecessors 
was at all able to equal [Edward's] remarkable achievements*. 
Of the three greatest monuments to perpendicular architec- 
ture which came into being during this age, Edward made 
gifts to Eton College Chapel; he and Richard contributed 
hundreds of pounds to that poem in glass and stone, King's 
College Chapel, and he himself began the rebuilding of the 
Chapel of St. George, Windsor. Even when he was depart- 
ing on his military expedition into France, in 1475, he found 
money to keep his skilled artisans at work; and shortly after 
he had returned to London, he rode down to Windsor eager 
to see what had been accomplished during his absence. He 
urged on the enterprise so ardently that by the spring of 1478 
there was a dearth of stonecutters in England: the best of 
them were all working at Windsor. William Wayneflete, 
Bishop of Winchester, who was then engaged in building 
Magdalen College, had to secure from the King a special 
dispensation in order to find enough stonecutters to proceed 
When Edward was interred (April 1483) in his chapel, at 
least part of the building was already roofed in lead. 


The King stuffed this edifice with costly ornaments -50 
for the making the head of an image of St. George and for 
gold to perform the same'; -160 for 'an image of Our Lady 
of gold with Our Lord in his arms' and purchased copes 
of white silk damask 'embroidered with angels with diverse 
minstrelsies', and yards of 'white velvet with black spots, 
white damask with flowers of divers colours, blue velvet tissue 
cloth of gold', and other expensive materials. He apparently 
began gathering a library for the chapel, perhaps containing 
editions of the classics printed in Italy, for the King arranged 
to pay 210 (8/9,000 today) to a 'merchant stranger 9 
named Philip Maisertuell 'for certain books by the said Philip 
to be provided to the King's use in the parties beyond the sea'. 

The intellectual ferment that glorifies the Tudor age was 
already stirring in the reign of Edward IV. Men were begin- 
ning to journey into Italy to drink of the heady fountains of 
humanism at Padua and Bologna and Florence. The most 
accomplished of these men, King Edward and his brother 
Richard drew into the service of the state as councillors and 
ambassadors. Edward IV probably made more use of the 
learning of his age, relatively, than Henry VIQ did of his. 

The Kingmaker's slippery brother George, Archbishop of 
York, exemplifies the quickening aspirations of the time, the 
reaching for fresh intellectual experience. He was made 
Chancellor of the University of Oxford when he was scarcely 
in his twenties. Before he was thirty he became Chancellor of 
England. A thorough worldling, clever and cultured, if not 
erudite, he corresponded with famous scholars; he collected 
manuscripts; he employed a Greek scribe to copy out clas- 
sical masterpieces for his library. The Burgundian chronicler 
Chastellain, not easily pleased, found him Very stately and 
eloquent'. Of another stamp was John Shirwood, Bishop of 
Durham and Richard UTs representative at the Vatican. King 
Edward's brother was so moved by his erudition that he be- 
sougfct the Pope to make Shirwood a cardinal because he 
was such an ornament of learning in England. 

Edward's court was intellectually enlivened by laymen as 
wen as clerics. Hie fifteenth century, flushed with the ger- 


initiating forces of the Renaissance, produced a blaze of 
princes. Few were more flamboyant than John Tiptoft, Earl 
of Worcester, and the Queen's brother, Lord Scales, later Earl 
Rivers. John Tiptoft resembles the lord of an Italian city state, 
whereas Anthony Woodville appears as a forerunner of the 
accomplished, melancholic and curiously ineffectual Earl of 

Educated at Balliol College, the brilliant Earl of Worcester 
became Treasurer of England when he was still in his twen- 
ties. Toward the end of Henry VTs reign he departed for 
Italy, accompanied by a lordly retinue. After spending a little 
time in Venice, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and on 
returning to Italy, studied Latin and law at Padua, met the 
leading humanists of the Peninsula, heard John Argyropoulos 
lecturing on Greek in Florence, and began ardently collecting 
manuscripts, many of which he later left to Oxford Univer- 
sity. An Italian humanist declared that the Earl, in avidly 
assembling a library, had robbed Italy to adorn England. 

He returned to his native land not many weeks after Ed- 
ward ascended the throne, and the young King seized imme- 
diately upon his talents. Within a few more months he was 
made a member of the Kong's council, Constable of the 
Tower and finally Constable of England, an office which in 
his ruthlessly capable hands spearheaded the drive to crush 
Lancastrian resistance. He commanded forces in the North; 
he led fleets against the Scots and French; and he was inde- 
fatigable in council. Some time during these crowded years, 
if not when he was in Italy, he translated Cicero's Essay on 
Friendship and the Orations of Cornelius Scipio and Gains 
Flamineus, later printed by William Caxton, who declared 
that the Earl flowered in virtue and cunning to whom I knew 
none like among the lords of the temporality in science and 
moral virtue'. The commons, however, did not share Caxton's 
enthusiasm. They hated Worcester's severity, grumbling that 
he 'judged by law of Padua', but they trembled before his bold 
features and protruding eyes. When, in 1470, he ordered the 
execution of some seamen of Warwick's, captured as the King- 
maker fled to France, he added a spectacle never before 


seen in the realm; their trunks and heads were impaled on 
stakes. After this he was known as the Butcher of England. 10 
He pursued the service of the new monarchy as zealously as 
he pursued his studies. Cold, enigmatic, tinged with cruelty 
and responsive to the new statecraft of Italy, he was more 
likely to weep at a torn manuscript than a severed head. 

When King Edward was forced to flee the realm in Septem- 
ber of 1470, the Earl of Worcester was caught hiding at the 
top of a tree hi a forest in Huntingdonshire. Warwick, ruling 
in London, assigned to the Earl of Oxford, whose father and 
brother Worcester had condemned to death, the pleasure of 
presiding over his arraignment. On Monday, October 15, 1470, 
he was speedily found guilty of treason, condemned to be 
led on foot from Westminster to Tower Hill, and there be- 
headed. He began his last journey on Wednesday, but the 
streets were so packed with men and women yelling execra- 
tion at this Italianate villain and struggling to tear him to 
pieces that the officers were forced to take shelter for the night 
in Fleet Prison. The next afternoon, the impassive earl, as 
brave as rigorous, was conveyed to Tower Hill by a powerful 
armed guard. Ignoring the jeers and curses of the blood-thirsty 
crowd, Worcester declared on the scaffold when an Italian 
friar reproached him for his crueltythat he had governed 
his actions by the good of the state. Raison d'ltat! There 
speaks the voice of Machiavelli and the coming age. Worces- 
ter's last earthly utterance, however, was completely mediaeval. 
He requested the headsman to perform his office in three 
strokes in honour of the Trinity. 

Anthony Woodville, the Queen's brother, was a courtier, in 
an age not quite ready for the courtier, rather than a man of 
state; and in his contrarieties he seems almost Elizabethan. 
Pilgrim and knight, worldly and ascetic, he was moved both 
by the vision of the Grail and of the Good Life. He was the 
most famous jouster of the age and a patron of Caxton. He 
translated three devotional works which Caxton printed; yet 
he was also given to penning mediaeval ballads against the 
Seven Deadly Sins. Though he counted himself a staunch son 

* There seems to be little difference between heads and trunks thrust 
on stakes and heads spiked on city gates, but your ordinary Englishman 
disliked 'newfangledness*, especially with a foreign flavour. 


of Holy Church, he seems to have developed an intimate piety, 
half mystical. The blows that fell upon his family and the 
perils that he himself suffered in the course of Warwick's 
struggle with King Edward 11 produced in him a profound re- 
ligious experience. Henceforth, he told Caxton, he had re- 
solved to dedicate himself to the cause of God. He perused 
the philosophers; he went on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. 
James of Compostella and talked of fighting the Infidel. He 
was appointed by Pope Sixtus IV Defender and Director of 
Papal causes in England, and beneath the rich robes of an 
earl he often wore a hair shirt. 

In the lists he dazzled beholders as much by the opulence 
and originality of his costumes and his gracious deportment 
as by his skill in arms. Others won the prizes in jousts held 
at Westminster, January of 1478, to celebrate the marriage 
of King Edward's second son, but the cynosure of all eyes 
was Anthony Woodville, who appeared in the field 'horsed 
and armed in the habit of a white hermit' accompanied by 
his hermitage 'walled and covered with black velvet'. 

In the work-a-day world, he commanded military expedi- 
tions and went on diplomatic missions, at the same time that 
he was governor of Edward's heir and thus headed the Council 
of the Welsh Marches. He could not claim the erudition of 
John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester, but he was none the less a 
patron of learning. When he journeyed beyond the Alps, he 
seems to have sought inspiration equally from the holiness of 
famous shrines and from the golden reawakening of the cities 
of Italy. None could say whether he was more moved by the 
culture or the sacred authority of the Papal court. Among the 
people, he was famed for his ceremonious feats of arms; 
among the 61ite, for his accomplishments of mind. Imprisoned 
by Richard of Gloucester in the uncertain days that followed 
the death of Edward IV, he was condemned to be executed 
as Richard moved to usurp the throne. On the eve of his 
death, as a final reckoning with the world, he composed a 
pathetic plaint upon the mutability of life, entirely mediaeval 
in feeling: 

11 His father and brother John were executed by Warwick in the 
summer of 1469; he himself shared King Edward's flight to the Low 
Countries and the Yorkist reconquest of the realm. 


Somewhat musing 
And mourning 
In remembering 
This world being 
Of such wheeling, 
Me contrarying, 
What may I guess? . . . 

Methinks truly 
Bounden am I, 
And that greatly, 
To be content; 
Seeing plainly 
Fortune doth wry- 
All contrary 
From mine intent. 

The chroniclers offer a glimpse of King Edward keeping at 
Westminster the last Christmas (1482) that he would ever see. 
Chambers resounded to the music of minstrels; dancing and 
elaborate 'disguisings' beguiled the hours. "The King ordered 
many performances of actors'; he frequently kept his state in 
the great hall or walked in ceremonial processions 'clad in a 
great variety of most costly garments, of quite a different cut 
to those which had been seen hitherto in our kingdom. . . . 
They gave that prince a new and distinguished air to behold- 
ers, he being a man . . . remarkable beyond all others for the 
attractions of his person. You might have seen the royal court 
presenting no other appearance than such as fully befits a most 
mighty kingdom, filled with riches and with people of almost 
all nations, and boasting of those most sweet and beautiful 
children, the issue of his marriage with Queen Elizabeth'. By 
this time Edward had solved his financial problems. For three 
years he had carried on a war with Scotland, without asking 
Parliament for money, and he died worth a fortune, 'the first 
English King to do so since the twelfth century'. 

King Edward's health had been failing for the past two 
years. 12 He had revelled long o' nights, but he had worked 

M The city of Canterbury, on seeing the King in 1482, noted that he 
was not well. Edward was severely shaken at Christmas time (1482) 
by bad news from overseas which even his brother Richard's successful 


long days, too. At the beginning of April he caught a chill, and 
though his illness did not appear serious, he grew ever weaker 
and died on April 9. He feU three weeks short of being forty- 
one years old. 

The fierce struggle to establish a powerful central authority 
had taken its toll. The past was crowded with lost illusions and 
friends turned enemies. The sanguine young monarch hoping 
to dispense justice had become a ruler grimly and wearily en- 
forcing order. Despite the amplitude of his might, the wit of 
Mistress Shore and the love of his subjects, the conqueror of 
Warwick, once an illness laid him a-bed, let death take him, 
apparently without a struggle. When he lost his ebullience, he 
lost everything. 

Though Henry V when he died was held in greater awe, no 
King of England since the conquest was so deeply mourned 
by so many of his subjects as Edward IV. More than a decade 
after Henry VII came to the throne, a Spanish ambassador, 
noting that that King was heartily disliked by his people, added 
that 'they love the Prince [Henry's heir, Arthur] as much as 
themselves because he is the grandchild of his grandfather 
[Edward IV]*." 

Sir Thomas More, no mean judge of character, and some- 
what closer to King Edward than modern historians, has this 
to say about him: 'he was a goodly personage, of heart cour- 
ageous, politic in council, in adversity nothing abashed, in 
prosperity rather joyful than proud, in peace just and merciful, 
hi war sharp and fierce. . . . At all the time of his reign he 
was with his people so benign, courteous, and so familiar that 
no part of his virtue was more esteemed.* When Queen Eliza- 
beth I called herself 'mere English', she was speaking in the 
vein of her great-grandfather. 14 

campaign in Scotland could not soften. Louis XI forced England's ally, 
Maximilian of Austria, now ruling in the Low Countries, to sign a hu- 
miliating treaty, in which the French King repudiated his promise to 
marry the Dauphin of France to Edward's daughter Elizabeth. 

18 Elizabeth (Edward's eldest daughter) was married to Henry VII; 
she too was much beloved for her father's sake. 

"Literally, too: Edward IV had more native blood in his veins than 
any king since the Conquest 


THE life of the land changed least. Probably nine of every ten 
subjects of King Edward IV dwelt in the country; and their 
lives were framed, like the lives of their forefathers and of 
their sons, by the round of the seasons, the boundaries of the 
manor, and the custom of the manor court. Though the realm 
was officially divided into shires, sokes, 'honours' and 'liberties' 
(where the lord's writ ran supreme), hundreds, and bor- 
oughsrural England was, organically, a web of manors. The 
great house, or abbey, dominated the social skyline; the master 
of the manor ruled a little enclave of officers, servants, tenants, 
and sub-tenants. 

A man of the fourteenth century riding through the coun- 
tryside of the Yorkist Age would find much that was familiar. 

Many a manor house was still surrounded by two or three 
great open fields, the lord's demesne and peasant holdings, 
separated into strips by balks of sod. Peasants, bond or free, 
lived in a huddle of cottages and ploughed the land with 
scrawny oxen. On the common meadows they pastured a cow 
and a few sheep; and in the woods and waste beyond, they 
kept a pig or two 'going' and took branches 'by hook or crood' 
for firewood and repairs. 

In the late autumn the peasant ploughed the demesne, on 
his days of labour service, and his own strips for the planting 
of wheat Not long after Candlemas (February 2) he was 
ploughing again, since oats and peas were sown around Easter. 
Then it was time to put in the barley. Oxen rather than horses 
dragged the plough: they were more manageable and cheaper 
and when they were past service they provided meat. In the 


harvest season the peasant cut the lord's grain, closely watched 
by bailiff and reeve to prevent Mm stealing extra time for his 
own crop. Around Martinmas (November 11) a great slaugh- 
tering of animals gave him and his family more meat than at 
any other season of the year. Otherwise they subsisted mainly 
on boiled bacon, an occasional chicken, worts and beans 
grown in the cottage garden, cereals. Hares from the lord's 
warren, fish from his stew pond, pigeons from his dovecot 
found their illicit way on to the table. The sale of a little wool 
put ale instead of water in the family drinking mugs. 

Tenants appeared before the lord's steward at the manor 
court and paid the same feudal dues as their fathers: merchet, 
a fine levied when a villein's son or daughter married; chevage, 
a fee which permitted the villein to dwell off the manor; heriot, 
a death-duty, usually the best beast; and other fines depending 
upon the custom of the manor. This custom meant more in 
the lives of the peasantry than what King and council decreed 
or what happened hi Parliament. Manor customs showed a 
common pattern, but there were regional variations. In Corn- 
wall, for example, when a stranger died within the boundaries 
of a manor, the lord received his best beast or his best gar- 
ment or best jewel. Even within regions each manor had its 
special laws which wove the texture of daily life. 

But a man of Chaucer's time, pausing to look more closely 
at the Yorkist countryside, would find many changes from his 
day. Begun long before the fourteenth century, these changes 
had been accelerated by the shocks of the Black Death, the 
Hundred Years War, the Peasants Revolt (1381); and in the 
six decades between the death of Chaucer and the accession 
of Edward IV they had produced conditions of life and of 
land tenure that added up to a manorial system quite different 
from that which prevailed when Chaucer was born in 1340. 

Almost everywhere fields had fallen back into waste or 
wood. Whereas the realm in the early fourteenth century had 
supported something like four-and-a-half million people, it now 
had a population of perhaps fewer than three million. There 
was a glut of land and a scarcity of men. While tenants and 
labourers therefore prospered, most lords had ceased to farm 
their demesnes because labour costs were too high, feudal 


claims too hard to enforce, and the price of crops too low. 
Now lords leased out their land to live as a rentier class, and 
they readily commuted for money the labour services no 
longer valuable to them. In the accounts of the time there 
frequently occurs a subtraction for 'decayed rents', either lands 
bringing a lower income than in the past or lying idle. 

With the agricultural situation so favourable to tenants, 
landlords often found it difficult to collect rents. Margaret 
Paston's *Cosyn Calthorp' sent her 6 a letter, complaining in 
his writing that forasmuch as he cannot be paid of his tenants 
as he hath been before this time, he purposeth to lessen his 
household and to live the straitlier'. Reports of bailiffs and 
stewards groan with lists of tenants who have failed to live 
up to their indentures. 'As to Skilly, farmer of Cowhaw, we 
entered there and said we would have payment for the half 
year past and surety for the half year coming, or else we 
would distrain and put him out of possession and put in a new 
farmer. Item, as to the farmer of the manor of Langston, we 
. . . took no distress but entered the lands . . . and as for 
Kyrley Hawe, I was with the fanner yesterday, but he will pay 
no penny nor be bound neither. . . .' Distraining was often 
a nasty business, breeding ill will between tenant and landlord. 
Even Sir James Gloys, the tough Paston chaplain who spent 
much of his time as a land agent, once admitted that though 
he had tried on several occasions to distrain upon a certain 
tenant, 'I could never do it but if I would have distrained him 
in his mother's house, and there I durst not for her cursing*. 

For tenants of all kinds the Yorkist Age appears like a sunlit 
plateau between the gloomy valleys of mediaeval villeinage 
on the one side and of the hard Tudor days of leaping prices 
and ruthless estate management on the other. At the beginning 
of Edward IVs reign villeinage was fast dwindling; when King 
Edward died, eviction of tenants to permit land enclosures was 
causing complaints but had not yet become menacing. Sir 
John Fortescue complacently contrasted the miserable, half- 
naked spiritless peasant of France with the warmly clad, meat- 
eating, ale-drinking, independent English yeoman; and alien 
visitors journeying through the countryside were equally im- 
pressed by the handsome parks of nobles and gentry and the 


air of prosperity among the lower orders. Changes in manorial 
tenures, in manorial occupations, in manorial industry were 
creating diversity of fortune and rank among the yeomanry. 
The monolithic order of peasants had now split into a variety 
of destinies. 

Though villeinage still existed, particularly in the North and 
parts of the West, it was already a survival, one that would 
linger as late as the days of Queen Elizabeth I, and the distinc- 
tion between bond and free was rapidly blurring. Chaucer saw 
the men of 1381 take pitchforks and mattocks and assault 
their betters in a desperate attempt to sweep away serfdom 
and beat down the statutes that held men in thrall. But in 
Jack Cade's rising of 1450 no such motives were at work, for 
villeinage was no longer a social and economic issue. 

Villeins were now being called 'customary tenants' or 'copy- 
holders'because they held their acres by a copy of the court- 
roll of the manor and they were winning for themselves a 
security recognized by law. Before Edward IV came to the 
throne, they were successfully appealing to the Chancellor 
against eviction; and in 1467 the Common Law, eager not to 
be left behind, came to their support. Chief Justice Danby de- 
clared that if a lord ousted his customary tenant 'he does him 
a wrong, for his tenant is as well inheritor to have the land to 
him and his heirs according to the custom of the manor as 
any man is to have his lands at common law'. When a villein's 
copyhold was upheld in the courts and he paid rent to his 
lord in lieu of labour-service, he was already merging into the 
ranks of free men. People were coming to think of servile 
tenures rather than servile tenants. 

The status of yeomen, enormously broadened, now ranged 
from the humblest free man to men like the bailiff Richard 
Calle, who read French and cast up accounts in Latin, and 
Clement Paston, who probably signed himself gentleman be- 
fore the end of his life and whose son rose to be a Justice. 
Even if all his land were leasehold, a yeoman could lay a solid 
foundation for his family and go to war as a gentleman. 
Bishop Latimer's father "was a yeoman and had no lands of 
his own, only he had a farm of 3 or 4 pound by year at the 
uttermost [i.e., that was the rent he paid]; and hereupon he 


tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for an 
hundred sheep, and my mother milked 30 kine. He was able, 
and did find the King a harness, with himself and his horse, 
while [until] he came to the place that he should receive the 
King's wages. I can remember that I buckled his harness when 
he went into Blackheath field [the rising against Henry VII in 
1497]. He kept me to school. ... He married my sisters with 
five pound or 20 nobles apiece. ... He kept hospitality for 
his poor neighbours. And some alms he gave to the poor, and 
all this did he of the said farm. Where [as] he that now hath it 
payeth 16 pound by year or more and is not able to do any- 
thing for his prince, for himself, or for his children or give a 
cup of drink to the poor*. 

A yeoman might, like Clement Paston, have part of his farm 
in 'bond land 5 , another part at leasehold, and some in free- 
hold. The enterprising copyholder, with a large family to help 
him, was taking on additional acres at copyhold and also leas- 
ing property. The yeoman-lawyer, the yeoman-bailiff, the mer- 
cenary archer invested their winnings hi land. 

The account books of Sir John Howard point the signs of 
the times. His steward noted that on the manor of Stansted 
Hall seven men who owed in harvest time from one-and-a- 
half to six days' work had failed to perform these 'journeys 5 
for the past five years. Sir John leased this manor to two yeo- 
men, Thomas Davy and his son John, for a period of seven 
years at 10 a year; with good luck and hard work, the 
Davys were probably able to realize as much income as a 
squire owning a manor worth .70 or more. With so much 
land available, yeomen could bargain for low rents and long 
leases and could often shift the onus of repairs to the land- 
lord. 'Please you to remember the bill I sent you at Hallow- 
mass,* Richard Calle wrote John Paston, 'for the place and 
lands at Boyton which Cheseman had hi his ferine [i.e., 
rented] for 5 mark [66s 8d]. There will no man have it above 
46s 8d . . and yet we cannot let it so for this year without 
they have it for 5 or 6 year.' 

Manorial occupations had broadened too. In his spare time 
a small yeoman-farmer might carry on the trade of smith or 
carpenter, while his wife set up as a brewer. Yearly Sir John 


Howard hired carpenters and other skilled labourers; he paid 
John Mendam, a smith, 30s a year and a livery gown. A yeo- 
man's son might lease land for himself or take service in a 
household or try his fortune in town by becoming an appren- 
tice or, if he showed himself adept at book-learning, he might 
win his way to one of the Inns of Court. If he could draw a 
stout bow and his heart was stirred by the Agincourt Carol 
he could enroll himself as one of the tall fellows' in a lord's 
retinue or adventure oversea as a mercenary in the pay of 
Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and share the violent ups and 
downs of that spectacular career. When Sir John Paston was 
about to depart for Calais in the retinue of its governor, Lord 
Hastings, he asked his brother young John to try to recruit four 
archers for him, 'likely men and fair conditioned and good 
archers and they shall have 4 marks by year and my livery*. 
These were not elite archers. An archer *de maison' or 61ite 
archer, Warwick the Kingmaker once assured Louis XI, was 
worth two ordinary soldiers, even English ones. In 1467 Sir 
John Howard contracted for the services of such an archer, a 
man named Daniel, offering him 10 a year, two gowns, and 
*a house for his wife to dwell in at Stoke'. As an extra induce- 
ment he gave Daniel 12d, two doublets worth 5s each, and a 
new gown, and sent him off to a shooting match with 20d 
more jingling in his purse. When Howard next journeyed to 
London, he went to Fyshlock the bowyer and bought himself 
a bow for 2s, but for his elite archer he paid 10s 6d for two 
bows, gave him a new case, a shooting glove, bowstrings, and, 
a short time later, two more bows costing 13s 4d and a sheaf 
of arrows probably the best target arrows obtainable, for 
they came to 5s. 

The appearance and the organization of numerous later- 
fifteenth-century manors likewise betokened changing times. 
Enclosures in Kent and a few other shires were not new, but 
now many parts of England were covered with a network of 
fields, arable and meadow, separated by hedging and ditches. 
Peasants as well as landlords pushed along the movement, 
exchanging then: strips of open field so that each might fence 
and thus more efficiently work a property of his own. This 


drive to enclose land began the transformation of mediaeval 
agriculture, usually credited to the next century. 

The industrial manor, now rapidly growing more common, 
represented the greatest change from the past. Sir John Fas- 
totfe's manor of Castle Combe down in Wiltshire, Chaucer 
would have found quite unfamiliar and a man of the thir- 
teenth century, incomprehensible. Flocks of sheep pastured 
on the meadows; but Castle Combe, as a result of Sir John's 
shrewd management and the growth of the cloth trade, was 
transformed in one generation into a hive of industry. Fastolfe 
had stimulated this movement by buying red and white cloth 
by the hundreds of yards from his tenants to make liveries for 
his soldiers, purchasing yearly 'to the value of more than 
100'. As clothiers, escaping from the gild restrictions and 
the limited supply of power in the towns, settled in increasing 
numbers on the manor, sheep-herders crowded the village of 
Overcombe, while weavers and fullers and dyers built cot- 
tages at Nethercombe. The hillsides above the combe were 
covered with cloths drying on tenters; new fulling-mills and a 
gig-mill were built The rattle of dice resounded in taverns, 
Sir John's fishponds were heavily poached, and some lusty 
artisans even dared to keep greyhounds, a privilege supposedly 
reserved to their betters, and coursed hares in the woods and 
fields of the manor. Finally taverns were ordered closed at 
nine o'clock in summer and eight o'clock in winter; and play- 
ing at dice and backgammon was prohibited, except at home 
until 9 P.M. 

As early as 1435 a villein, William Haynes, who spent 30 
rebuilding his house and contributed 20 to erecting a church 
tower, died possessed of goods and chattels worth something 
in the neighbourhood of four or five hundred pounds, say 
20,000 in modern money. His widow Margery gave him a 
fine 27 funeral, probably, like Enoch Arden's, one of the 
costliest the region had ever known, paid almost 150 in 
fines for permission to possess her husband's goods and to 
marry again, lived like a lady with two French servants in her 
household, and died owning a grain-mill, a fulling-mill, two 
houses she herself had erected, and lands and tenements. 

The nerve centre of the manor was the manor court, where 


once a month or several times a year tenants bond and free 
met, as required by 'suit of court', to regulate their affairs 
according to the custom of the manor. As the little drama of 
the court unfolded, the lord's steward sat at a table with a 
big book before him and noted down facts of tenure, accusa- 
tions and excuses, as 'presented' by *tithing-men% elected 
yearly, and by a jury of tenants. The steward also dispensed 
justice if the lord possessed view-of-frankpledge, franchisal 
police powers. 

Glancing through a few of the rolls that have been pre- 
served, one can see the 'homage' of the little manor of Michell 
choosing a reeve for the coming year and two officers to taste 
ale and weigh bread. All brewers were automatically charged 
with having violated the assize of ale; any who were then able 
to prove themselves innocent were excused. A free tenant 
was 'presented', paid his relief and did fealty for his lands. 
The steward read out a record of stray cattle pinned hi the 
lord's pound, heard pleas of debt and trespass, and collected 
fines and fees accruing from the annual fair held on St. 
Francis's Day. 

At the court of Standon manor, held on Wednesday after 
Michaelmas in 1455, twelve jurors 'presented' a number of 
tenants owing fines, who ranged from the 'Lord of Rugge* 
and the 'Lord of Weston* and a prior to a group designated 
simply free men'; all were further 'amerced* [fined] 2d. John 
Voxe, presented for unjustly felling two ash trees in his close, 
was ordered to pay to the lord the estimated value of the trees, 
4d. A second tenant, who was one of the jurors, had fished 
in the lord's pool and taken fish. Still another juror was ac- 
cused of breaking the lord's hedge on demesne land and 
there pasturing 'six oxen and three steers unjustly'; but the 
man asserted that he had a perfect right to do this and *put 
himself upon his charter granted of ancient time by the lord. 
. . .' A miller 'took of the lord the watermill there' for a term 
of twenty years at an annual rent of 56s 6d, payable in two 

On a Wednesday after Hock Day (second Monday after 
Easter Sunday) towards the end of Edward IVs reign, four 
tithing-men of Carshalton manor presented, and a jury of 


twelve sworn free men confirmed, that two millers had taken 
excessive tolls, and that three men had shown themselves to 
be 'common breakers of hedges to the common harm'. Three 
tenants paid fines to the steward for the privilege of brewing 
ale tfll Michaelmas next. A man and his wife surrendered 
seven acres of land so that it might be bestowed upon a squire 
and his two sons, who were duly admitted as tenants and paid 
a fine of two capons. The tithing-men further presented that 
Henry Lee, ordered at the last view-of-frankpledge to repair 
the King's road to the fulling-mills pond, had not yet done so; 
he was warned that if he did not complete the work by the 
next View 5 , he would be amerced 6s 8d. John Foxe, chaplain, 
was accused of assaulting John Merkely with a 'chip' of no 
value and of attacking William Pounchon with a knife, price 
one penny, Pounchon having drawn blood from Foxe with a 

At a court-leet of the Abbot of Peterborough, tithing-men 
and constables and surveyors of roads presented offences. All 
ale-sellers were, as usual, written down as guilty. Butchers 
were reminded that the churchyard must be cleansed every 
Saturday of the bones and film their dogs brought there. 
Henry Roby was accused of being a petty briber and *untrue 
to his neighbours*. Complaints were heard that the common 
sewer had not been repaired and that the Abbot was exacting 
unjust tolls of carts and carriages. 

During troubled years and even on occasion when the realm 
was comparatively peaceful, manor courts could become the 
scenes of angry quarrels, sometimes boiling up into violence, 
as rival claimants of a manor appeared at the same instant 
to hold court A landlord with a shaky title or a powerful 
enemy not only was forced to fight expensive law-suits but he 
had to provide a retinue of stout fellows to back up the au- 
thority of his steward. The worst sufferers, however, were the 
tenants. Hie Wars of the Roses disturbed the lives of manor 
dwellers far less than did tenurial disputes. 

John Paston sent his agent Thomas Howes and a party of 
men to interrupt a court being held on the manor of Cowhaw, 
which he claimed by virtue of a wardship he owned. 'At the 
first Oyez,* Howes reported, he and the Paston steward, Bar- 


tholomew Ellis, promptly strode into the assembly and 'there 
was long Bernard sitting to keep a court*. Ellis announced that 
he had come to hold the session and ordered long Bernard 
* "to cease ... for ye have none authority". Quoth Bernard, 
"I will keep both court and leet, and ye shall none keep here; 
for there is no man hath so great authority." Then quoth Bar- 
tholomew, "I shall sit by you and take a recognisance as ye 
do". "Nay," quoth Bernard, "I will suffer you to sit but not 
to write." "Well," quoth Bartholomew, "then forcibly ye put 
us from our possession, which I doubt not but shall be remem- 
bered you another day," etc.* Bartholomew then turned to 
the unlucky tenants: ""Sirs," quoth he, "ye that be tenants 
to this manor, we charge you that ye do neither suit nor serv- 
ice, nor pay any rents but to the use of John Paston and T.H.; 
for, and ye do, ye shall pay it again. . . ." And thus we de- 
parted, and Bernard kept court and leet 5 the tenants no 
doubt gloomily meditating on their predicament 

Some years later, young John Paston showed himself even 
more vigorous than Bartholomew in such a situation, though 
he had less protection. Suddenly learning that a man named 
Gornay to whom Sir John had leased the manor of Saxthorpe 
but not the right to keep a manor court, was none the less 
holding court there, young John, *ere the court was an done, 
came thither with a man with me and no more, and there, be- 
fore him and all his fellowship ... I charged the tenants that 
they should proceed no further in their court upon pain that 
might follow of it, and they letted [ceased] for a season. But 
they saw that I was not able to make my part good, and so 
they proceeded further; and I saw that and set me down by 
the steward and blotted his book with my finger as he wrote, 
so that all tenants affirmed that the court was interrupted by 
me as in your right, and I required them to record that there 
was no peaceable court kept, and so they said they would'. 

A few months later, on Holy Rood Day (May 3), young 
John again interrupted a manor court that Gornay was trying 
to hold. He spoke politely, however, and Gornay promised to 
discuss his differences with Sir John, for which young John 
had cause to be thankful. Urging his brother to come to terms 
with Gornay, he reported that 'it lieth not in my power to keep 


war with him; for and I had not dealt right courteously upon 
Holy Rood Day I had "drunk to mine oysters", for young 
Heydon had raised as many men as he could make in harness 
to have helped Gornay; but when Heydon saw that we dealt 
so courteously as we did, he withdrew his men and made them 
to go home again, notwithstanding they were ready, and need 
had been. And also my Lord of Norfolk's men will be with 
him against me I wot well, till better peace be*. 

The hardships of tenants on a disputed manor were intensi- 
fied when one of the claimants insisted that they give surety 
for payment of rent; for the other claimant usually countered 
by assuring them that he would 'save them harmless' if they 
broke the surety. The Paston bailiff John Pampyng describes 
these manoeuvres in a report to John Paston, who was strug- 
gling with Justice Yelverton for possession of the manor of 
Cotton: *I have been at Cotton and spoke with Edward Dale, 
and he told me that Yelverton and Jenney were there on Fri- 
day and took a distress of 26 or more bullocks of the said 
Edward's in the Park and drove them to a town thereby. . . . 
And when the said Edward understood the taking of the said 
beasts he went to Yelverton and Jenney and bound him in 
an obligation of 10 to pay them his ferme at Michaelmas; 
which I told him was not well done, for I told him ye had 
been able to save him harmless. Nevertheless as for money, 
they get none of him readily nor of the tenants neither, as he 
can think yet. The said Yelverton dined on Friday at Cotton 
and there charged the tenants they should pay no money but 
to him. . . .' 

No franchise was more jealously guarded than the right of 
holding a manor court Not only did the fines, amercements, 
and other dues put ready money into the lord's coffers; but 
the holding of the court constituted the fundamental exercise 
of possession and expressed the fact of lordship itself. Violent 
disputes over land that turned the manor court into an arena 
and caused landowners to ride with a band of armed men at 
their backs, open assaults on manors and forcible entries 
sprang from deeper causes than troubled times and greedy 
hearts. The whole complicated system of feudal tenures, in- 
terpreted by centuries of accumulating law, had broken down, 

[11] View of London from the Tower (from The Poems of 
Charles, Duke of Orleans, here imprisoned in the Tower) ( B M 

"Domus Regie 
the King dining in 
state (B.M.Harl. 
from the Black 
Book of 
Edward IV). 

[13] at right, 
the clerks of the 
Green Cloth and 
the steward with 
his wand of office 
(B. M. Harl. 
from the Black 
Book of 
Edward IV). 

/^ ^vfT-;,,, w V3-- 
4. A !. 

[14] Earl Rivers before Ed- 
ward IV. Queen Elizabeth and 
the young Edward V on Ed- 
ward's left (Lambeth Palace 

[15] Richard III. Artist unknown. (National Portrait Gallery, 

[17] Caister Castle (C.O.I., S 963/5). 

[18] Tattershall Castle (C.O.I., S 1125/1). 


and no other system had quite been developed to take its 
place. The Common Law had not kept pace with accelerating 
change; the Court of Chancery was just emerging from in- 
fancy. Feudal terms and provisions were distorted to express 
concepts no longer feudal. Land held as tenure had given way 
to land understood as property, but the courts lagged behind. 
Abuses rushed in to fill the gap. Men secretly transferred prop- 
erty and then sold it, so that the new owners found their rights 
contested by titles they had never heard of. Land was some- 
times conveyed by 'fines', registered in the court of Common 
Pleas, but the court had not developed a machinery of public 
notification. 1 The system of trusts and uses holding land in 
trust for the use of somebody elsecaused further confusion. 
Long ago the friars had managed to get round the prohibi- 
tion against owning property by vesting it in laymen who held 
it for their use. Lords and gentry, finding many advantages in 
this system, had adopted it for themselves, and in the Yorkist 
Age it was one of the commonest forms of land holding. But 
faithless trustees and executors claimed property as their own 
or disputed among themselves the right of sole administration. 
In this age of clouded titles, marriageable girls qualified their 
willingness to accept a husband with the proviso, 'if it so be 
that his land stand clear'; and courts and Chancery were 
clogged with suits. 

Furthermore, an economic situation now unfavourable to 
landlords caused nobles and gentry to seek every means to 
enlarge their holdings. At the same time that great families 
like the Nevilles brought together vast tracts of property by 
fortunate marriages and Yorkist partisans benefited by the 
confiscation of Lancastrian estates, 2 other men bought up 
doubtful claims and corrupted trustees in order to get then- 
hands on property. 

Sir John Fastolfe and John Paston had as many as a dozen 

1( The first important step to correct these abuses was taken in the 
Parliament of Richard m by means of two statutes, one against *privy 
and unknown feoffements', the other requiring property transfer by fines 
to be officially publicised. 

a Sir John Howard, granted an estate of 1,000 marks confiscated on 
Sir Nicolas Latimer, sold the property back to Latimer for that price 
and gracefully offered the money to King Edward. 


legal actions going on at once. Of Sir William Stonor's three 
legal counsellors, one appears to have been specially retained 
to watch out for any suits being heard at Westminster that 
might affect Stonor interests. There were so many lawyers in 
Norwich that the city tried to limit their numbers by municipal 
decree. Prudent squires sent their sons to the Inns of Court 
in order to arm them with the legal training that had become 
almost a necessity in the management of property. Agnes Pas- 
ton advised her son Edmund *to think once of the day of your 
father's counsel to learn the law, for he said many times that 
whosoever should dwell at Paston should have need to [know 
how to] defend himself, a prophecy that proved to be only 
too accurate. 

Law-suits were so expensive and time-consuming, the 
chances of securing a favourable verdict were so uncertain, 
and even successful suits so frequently brought no relief, that 
men turned, when they could, to arbitration, as Mayor Shill- 
ingford had finally consented to seek arbitrators for Exeter's 
quarrel with Bishop Lacy. A letter from Lord Scales to John 
Paston illustrates the procedure: Tor as much as I and others 
stand feoffed in the lands of Thomas Canon [an example of 
trusts and uses], which is in variance between you and him, if 
ye will do so much as for your part choose 2 learned men 
and the said Canon shall choose other 2, they to judge this 
matter as they shall seem of right and reason. And if so be 
that the said Canon will not do so, I will not let you to sue him 
after the form of the King's law.' 

The Paston letters unfold a far more crowded tale of vio- 
lence in land dealings than any other contemporary source. In 
1450 a war-band of the Lord Molynes assaulted the Paston 
manor of Gresham and forcibly removed Margaret Paston 
from the premises, which were then looted. Fifteen years later, 
on Tuesday, October 15, 1465, the Duke of Suffolk rode 
into Norwich at the head of 500 men, ordered his confederate, 
the Mayor, to lay hands on all men of the Paston affinity, and 
then sent his forces to smash the lodge and mansion on the 
manor of Hellesdon and occupy also the adjoining manor of 
Drayton, both lying across a stream from Suffolk's place at 
Costessey. Twelve days later, Margaret Paston wrote mourn- 


fully to her husband that she had ridden to Hellesdon 'and in 
good faith there will no creature thfpfr how foul and horribly 
it is arrayed but if they see it. There cometh much people 
daily to wonder thereupon, both of Norwich [less than five 
miles distant] and of other places, and they speak shamefully 
thereof. Four years later, the Duke of Norfolk besieged and 
captured Caister Castle from the Fastens. 

That such spectacular resorts to violence were uncommon, 
the sight-seers thronging from Norwich indicate, and the in- 
dication is supported by the records of the time. But forcible 
entries were not confined to Paston properties. Henry Makney 
had for years waged a feud in the law-courts with John Colyn- 
grygge over the Makney place, fi a pretty manor of brick' in 
Berkshire. When his rival achieved momentary possession, 
Makney wrote to Sir William Stonor, 'Colyngrygge and I be 
at open war: I purpose to enter in the manor of Makney with 
God's grace on Monday or Wednesday, and if I have need, I 
pray you send me a good lad or 2 that I be not beat out again 5 . 
Stonor himself ran the gamut of suits, attempts at arbitration, 
and violent altercations with the Fortescue family over his 
Devon manor of Ermington; only after a generation of trouble 
was the quarrel happily settled by the marriage of Sir Wil- 
liam's son and daughter to a son and daughter of the Fortes- 

The Paston place near Norwich was not the only Drayton 
that John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, assaulted in his time. 
The manor of Drayton, Oxfordshire, was owned by Peter Id- 
ley, a well-to-do squire who was for a time Comptroller of 
the King's Works. He wrote a book of Instructions to His Son, 
in the course of which, like Agnes Paston, he advised his boy 
to seek legal training: 

I conceive thy wit both good and able; 
To the law, therefore, now have I meant 
To set thee, if thou wilt be stable 
And spend thy wit that God hath sent 
In virtue with good intent; 
Then shall I help thee as I can 
With my goods till thou be a man. 


But this eldest son Thomas predeceased his father; and 
when Peter Idley himself died at the end of 1473, a bitter 
battle developed between Thomas's widow Alice and Peter's 
second son William over the manor of Drayton. In the first 
weeks of 1474 Alice hurried up to London to complain to the 
royal Council that William was attempting forcibly to evict 
her. William promptly countered by bringing charges of debt 
and trespass against her; and in consequence she found herself 
'divers times arrested 9 and frustrated in her efforts to get jus- 
tice from the King's Council, as she set forth in a petition to 
the Chancellor. 

In the autumn of the following year, William Idley pre- 
sented a counter-petition and won a decree that Alice should 
make reasonable provision for him from the estate. But the 
quarrel smouldered. Some five years later the case was sub- 
mitted to the arbitration of four learned men, who reversed 
the Chancery decision and awarded the manor of Drayton to 

But William had friends with stout fellows at their beck and 
call. Sir William Stonor and his father, Thomas, had been ap- 
pointed among the executors of Peter Idley's will. It seems 
likely that Sir William backed William Idley's cause, for the 
Stonors possessed a connection with the Duke of Suffolk, Sir 
William's mother being apparently a natural sister of the Duke; 
and William Idley, assembling men in July of 1481 to attack 
Drayton, was able to enlist Suffolk's full aid. On the 16th Id- 
ley's band swarmed on to the manor *with the maintenance of 
the Duke of Suffolk being there in person'. They *brake the 
houses and walls of the same in divers places, took and led 
away the beasts and goods, and beat and chased out all the 
servants and other persons being within the same'. Suffolk was 
not content merely to direct operations. 'In his own person 
[he] pulled the said Alice out of her chamber and put her out 
of the said manor. . . .' After Alice appealed to the Royal 
Council, a privy seal directed Sir William Stonor and Hum- 
phrey Forster, Justices of the Peace, to restore her and her 
son Richard to possession of the manor; the record stops there. 

As a result of economic pressures, uncertainties over title to 
land, the weakness of the Lancastrian government, and the 


system of livery and maintenance which gave each magnate 
a band of retainers to make good his local domination, the 
gentry of the realm in the last two decades of Henry VFs reign 
scrambled to secure 'good lordship' as they had never scram- 
bled before. Not that they liked taking sides among the proud, 
touchy nobles of England: when an agent of Sir William 
Plumpton, whose 'lord' was the Earl of Northumberland, ap- 
proached Lord Hastings to seek Hastings' good offices in mak- 
ing Plumpton a Justice of the Peace, King Edward's favourite 
one of the most genial peers in England fixed the man with 
a haughty eye and 'answered thus, that it seemed by your 
labour and mine, we would make a jealousy betwixt my Lord 
of Northumberland and him; Sir, I took that for a watchword 
for meddling betwixt lords*. But what was a man to do when, 
in the 1440's and 1450's, 'misrule doth rise and maketh neigh- 
bours war 5 ? 

There was nothing new in the act of seeking good lordship; 
it was common before the Conquest and it would continue, 
under changing forms, virtually until the First World War. By 
the reign of Henry VI the old feudal connection based on land 
tenure was extinct. It had been replaced by 'bastard feudalism*, 
as it is now named, which was already firmly established in 
the latter years of Edward ILL This system depended upon a 
cash-and-influence nexus called 'livery and maintenance'. In 
return for his services usually armed services a *retainer*, 
often bringing with him numerous adherents, received from 
his 'good lord' money or other compensation and wore the 
lord's colours ('livery'); and, in addition, if the retainer was 
harassed by the law or by enemies, the lord promised to give 
him protection ('maintenance"). This system of allegiance-by- 
indenture, permitting men of means to build up powerful f ol- 
lowings, flourished in the climate of growing disorder afflicting 
the last decades of Henry VI's reign, its ranks often swelled 
by its victims and its violence condoned at court 

The captain of Lord Molynes' band who seized the Paston 
manor of Gresham had himself been dispossessed of lands by 
the Duke of Suffolk and so was forced to wear Molynes* livery 
in order to earn a living. When John Paston brought suit 
against Molynes, he was informed that the sheriff liath writing 


from the King that he shall make such a panel to acquit the 
Lord Molynes'. 

Caught between the rivalries of ambitious lords, the gentry 
looked to the nearest man of power; and the nearest man of 
power, competing for influence with his peers, eagerly wel- 
comed the connection. Sir William Stonor put himself within 
the orbit of the Marquess Dorset; Sir William Plumpton sought 
the good lordship of the Earl of Northumberland; John 
Damme of Sustead looked for protection to John Paston. The 
men who fared best were those who avoided dependence upon 
a party chieftain or those who managed to pick the winning 
side, like young John Paston. 

The bitter land-feud between the lords of Berkeley and the 
famous warrior-Earl of Shrewsbury and his scarcely less mar- 
tial Countess illustrates 'the world right wild' of the 1450's. An 
early historian of the Berkeleys found in the court records, 
from 1445 to the end of Henry VFs reign, 'matter of riot, 
force, violence, and fraud enough to blot more paper than I 
intend in the whole life of this lord [James, Lord Berkeley]'. 
In these broils the town of Berkeley was so devastated that 
its fee-farm fell from 22 to ! 1 and less. 

The Shrewsbury clan held the immense advantage of being 
among the chief supporters of Henry VTs court party; and in 
1451-52 they were able with impunity to harry Lord James 
with armed bands and law-suits, 'which storms to avoid he 
was enforced to keep home and to man his castle with some 
strength for his defence and preservation, and his sons being 
also embroiled in many troubles kept close with their father'. 

In September of 1452 the Shrewsbury heir, Lord Lisle, 
urged on by his mother and having corrupted a Berkeley serv- 
ant to deliver up keys, stormed into Berkeley Castle early one 
morning 'with great numbers of people warlike arrayed and 
there took the said Lord James and his said four sons in their 
beds and there kept them in prison in great duress by the space 
of eleven weeks, by the commandment of the said Countess 
. . . ever awaiting the hour of their cruel death'. Not content 
with forcing them to sign certain prejudicial indentures, the 
Countess, on November 4, had the Berkeleys conveyed by 
force to Bristol. In the presence of the mayor they were bound 


by statute-merchant in the terrifying sum of 12,280, which 
they signed 'for dread to be murdered'. Then the Berkeleys 
were haled by the 'riotous fellowship' back to Berkeley Castle, 
only to be forced in a few weeks to appear at Cirencester 
before a commission of inquiry, rigged by the Countess of 
Shrewsbury, and there to make such pleas as the Countess 
dictated. In the end, Lord Berkeley lost all the disputed lands 
and was kept out of his castle for two years. 

After Edward IV came to the throne the Berkeleys peti- 
tioned, in the foregoing terms, against these violent proceed- 
ings. The now widowed Countess answered stoutly that Berke- 
ley fellowships had despoiled the countryside, even torturing 
a blind man to make him reveal his gold. At the request of the 
oppressed populace Lord Lisle had entered Berkeley Castle 
merely to round up evil-doers; and the Berkeleys, far from 
being under duress, had freely resigned their ill-gotten gains 
to the House of Shrewsbury. The feud smouldered until the 
turbulent early months of 1470, when the battle of Nibley 
Green brought victory to the Berkeleys and death to Lord 

The worst excesses of bastard feudalism in the last years of 
Henry VI are dramatized in the sad story of Nicholas Rade- 
ford. Recorder of the city of Exeter, he lived comfortably on 
a country estate and was much courted by the mayor and 
aldermen with presents of fish, wine, and game. Not long after 
John Shillingford died (about 1449), Radeford exchanged his 
pleasant life for the dangers of his time by becoming a coun- 
sellor of Sir William Bonvile. For years Sir William and the 
hot-headed Thomas Courtenay, Earl of Devon, had bitterly 
disputed the leadership of the county. In the middle 1450's 
these two proud magnates called up their retainers, broke out 
banners, and fought a fierce battle outside the walls of Exeter; 
after which the victorious earl stormed into the city and car- 
ried off some of Bishop Lacy's canons to hold for ransom. 
Shortly before this affray, a band of armed men burst the 
gates of Nicholas Radeford's manor house and pounded at 
his doors. When trembling servants let them in, Radeford dis- 
covered that their leader was the son of the Earl of Devon. 
The old man was brusquely informed that he must present 


himself at once before the Earl. He called for a horse, but by 
this time Courtenay's men were pillaging the manor and had 
led off all the animals. Radef ord was brutally ordered to walk. 
In the darkness he started down Vhe road, hustled by jeering 
ruffians. When he had gone but a bow-shot from the manor 
gates, his tormentors drew swords, smashed his skull, and left 
him dead on the road like a dog. 

Edward IV laboured throughout his reign to break the sys- 
tem of livery and maintenance and with it the dominion of 
the over-mighty subject. The evil had taken deep root; but 
after Edward had crushed the greatest network of baronial 
strength, the Nevilles and their adherents, he made notable 
headway in the last decade of his reign. As Henry VII would 
do after him, Edward excluded lords from his government 
and undercut their power in the shires by enlarging the judicial 
functions and winning the loyalty of the country gentry. By 
the end of his reign the relationship between Sir John Weston, 
Prior of the Order of St. John, and the Cely family, Merchants 
of the Staple, expressed the tie of lordship which was replacing 
bastard feudalism. The Celys did not hold their Essex manor 
of Sir John, nor did they become his armed retainers; but they 
called him their good lord, they wore his livery when they 
accompanied him on a journey of state, they received intimate 
reports of his diplomatic missions, and they in turn supplied 
him with the latest news from Calais. 

The comparatively tranquil existence of Sir William Stonor, 
in Edward IV's days, probably represents the normal life of 
the upper gentry. He had occasional trouble with tenants; he 
fought numerous legal battles; his quarrel with the Fortescue 
family over the manor of Ermington produced one flare-up of 
violence. On occasion Sir William experienced the pressures 
of 'lordship'. In 1478 Lord Strange of Knockin wrote to him 
in an idiom which by this time was beginning to grow old- 

'Between this [6 October] and Easter I will and desire that 
ye nor Cottesmore [Sir William's brother-in-law] distrain not 
nor trouble my tenants no more: and between this and the 
next half year I will that ye both see me, and if ye deal as ye 
ought I will be your good lord, and eke I dare better displease 


you than ye me: and as for the ferme [a disputed rent] I will 
do nothing without my lord of Gloucester, and I trust in all 
things he will defend me and my tenants, and I am friended 
so to help myself. . . .' 

When even so great a magnate as Richard Neville, Earl of 
Warwick, purchased two manors in the county of Norfolk, he 
caused his uncle and party chief, The Duke of York, to write 
to the gentry of the neighbourhood, requesting them *as far 
as right, law, and good conscience will, to have in favourable 
recommendation' the Earl's officers; and Warwick himself 
heartily prayed John Paston that 'ye will show to me your 
good will and favour . . . and be my faithful friend, wherein 
ye shall do to me a singular pleasure and cause me to be to 
you right good lord. . . .* 

Nowhere among the records of the time is the hunt for 
'good lordship* illustrated in such detail as in the Paston let- 
ters; on the other hand, to take the Paston quest as represen- 
tative is a little like describing the activity in the Place de la 
Concorde during the Terror as a typical eighteenth-century 
street scene. East Anglia, especially Norfolk and Suffolk, and 
the Paston family were special cases. 

East Anglia was a special case because it was crammed 
with potentates and exhibited an intenser political rivalry, na- 
tional and local, than most other regions. Like eighteenth- 
century Europe, it had its congeries of ambitious powers, al- 
liances and counter-alliances, shifting balance of forces, and 
cherished claims and pretensions which generated diplomatic 
skullduggery or open war. Until he was murdered in the Chan- 
nel in 1450, Queen Margaret's favourite, William de la Pole, 
Duke of Suffolk, dominated the eastern counties with the help 
of powerful creatures like Sir Thomas Tuddenham and John 
Heydon, Recorder of Norwich. Even after the Duke's death, 
his widow Alice and Tuddenham and Heydon managed for 
a decade to keep the Suffolk interest paramount and to main- 
tain a grip upon the city of Norwich. The Lancastrian Lord 
Scales and the hated court favourite Thomas Daniel controlled 
northern Norfolk; the Lancastrian Earl of Oxford, with his 
chief seats in Essex and Norfolk, exerted great influence; the 
Lancastrian Sir Miles Stapleton'that knavish knight', John 


Paston called him made use of a turbulent menie. The Fastens 
and Sir John Fastolfe and John Damme of Sustead and other 
gentlemen, who suffered from the oppressions of Suffolk re- 
tainers, looked to the old Duke of Norfolk, brother-in-law and 
adherent of Richard, Duke of York, and to York himself. 

In 1459-60 there occurred almost simultaneously a violent 
shift in the fortunes of John Paston and in the balance of pow- 
ers in Norfolk. Six months before the Yorkists gamed control 
of England, Sir John Fastolfe died (November, 1459), leav- 
ing in a nuncupative will made on his death-bed all his proper- 
ties in Norfolk and Suffolk to John Paston. Paston wore out 
his heart and inflicted a miserably harried existence upon his 
wife Margaret in a desperate struggle to hold this magnificent 
inheritance. He never succeeded hi achieving the good lord- 
ship necessary to protect his holdings, perhaps because he 
knew that gaining such lordship would cost him some of his 

By the time John Paston had got the Fastolfe properties in 
his hands, the political situation in Norfolk looked to be far 
more favourable to him than it had ever been before. Edward 
IV had ascended the throne; Sir Thomas Tuddenham would 
shortly be executed and John Heydon had ceased to be a men- 
ace; the Lancastrians Thomas Daniel and Lord Scales were 
dead; and the Earl of Oxford and his eldest son, early in 1462, 
were executed on a charge of plotting to restore Henry VI. It 
appeared to be a world for good Yorkists to bustle in. John 
Paston, perhaps by virtue of his new position, was elected 
Knight of the Shire for Warwick's Parliament of 1460; he 
appears to have spent a brief period in Edward IVs household; 
and he was again chosen to represent the shire in Edward's 
first Parliament of 1461. The murdered Duke of Suffolk's son 
John held no such sway as his father had done; the new Lord 
Scales, Anthony Woodville, would in a few years become King 
Edward's brother-in-law; seventeen-year-old John Mowbray 
had succeeded his father as Duke of Norfolk and represented 
the chief Yorkist strength in the county; and another good 
Yorkist, Sir John Howard, had been appointed Sheriff of Nor- 
folk and Suffolk. 

But the appearance of good fortune turned deceptive. The 


parliamentary election of 1461 was marred by charges of 
fraud; Sheriff Howard and John Paston quarrelled; from 
court, Paston's son Sir John sent word to his father that 'It is 
talked here how that ye and Howard should have striven to- 
gether on the Shire Day [election day], and one of Howard's 
men should have struck you twice with a dagger, and so ye 
should have been hurt but for a good doublet that ye had on 
at that time.' 3 Though further troubles caused the King to or- 
der a new election, John Paston kept his parliamentary seat; 
but Edward IV commanded both Howard and Paston to ap- 
pear before him to explain the violence that each blamed upon 
the other. John Paston, already engaged in a struggle to pro- 
tect his properties, failed to heed the summons. Young King 
Edward meant to dispense justice and he meant to be obeyed. 
John's brother Clement reported that on October 11 [1461] 
the King had angrily declared, We have sent two privy seals 
to Paston by two yeomen of our chamber, and he disobeyeth 
them; but we will send him another tomorrow, and by God's 
mercy, and if he come not then he shall die for it. We shall 
make all other men beware by him how they shall disobey our 

When John Paston at last hurried up to Westminster, he was 
sent to Fleet Prison. Still, though Sir John Howard was the 
King's 'servant', Edward scrupulously investigated the quarrel 
and, deciding that John Paston was guiltless, ordered him re- 
leased. By this time hungry men on all sides were trying to 
bite chunks out of the Fastolf e inheritance. To secure the good 
lordship he desperately needed, Paston had got his eldest son, 
Sir John, introduced at court, but the young man lacked 
money or friends or address, for he was soon forced to come 
home again. Paston had better luck with his second son, young 
John, who, almost of an age with the Duke of Norfolk, be- 
came a member of the Duke's household. 

But the Norfolk interest was already aiming at Caister Cas- 

3 Sir John Howard himself possessed such a 'doublet of [delfence*, 
which, in his own hand, he describes in his account book as being re- 
inforced in front by 18 folds of white fustian, four folds of linen, and 
one fold of black fustian; and in the back by 16 folds of white fustian, 
four folds of linen and a fold of black fustian; the sleeves were likewise 
lined with layers of fustian and linen. 


tie, which the old Duke had coveted; and from his manor of 
Costessey the Duke of Suffolk greedily eyed the manors of 
Hellesdon and Drayton. The Duke of Norfolk appears to have 
been a low-temperatured young man, given to sullenness and 
irresolution and easily led. He was in the hands of his council, 
whom at a later date Edward IV sharply rated for their irre- 
sponsibility, and of his beautiful wife Elizabeth Talbot. John 
de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, was even less able and more 
dangerous than the Duke of Norfolk. 

His great-grandfather on his mother's side was Geoffrey 
Chaucer and on his father's side, Michael de la Pole, the most 
brilliant merchant of his day; but these likely strains had done 
little for the Duke. Lethargic and irascible, he had a taste for 
violence but none for either war or statesmanship. He played 
no part in the struggle between Lancaster and York. Though 
his eldest son John, Earl of Lincoln, was named heir to the 
throne by Richard in, he did not support Richard in the cam- 
paign of Bosworth Field, and he did not lift a finger in the 
reign of Henry VII while Lincoln and his other sons conspired 
and failed and perished. Perhaps the gruesome fate of his am- 
bitious father had stamped upon him a determination to stay 
out of trouble; but other forces moulded his life too. His 
mother, Alice Chaucer, was a domineering figure, rather like 
Agnes Paston but with more power. His wife Elizabeth, sister 
of Edward IV, had been given to him so that the only remain- 
ing Lancastrian Duke might be kept firmly within the Yorkist 
orbit. It appears that John de la Pole suffered from frustra- 
tion as well as indecision and found occasional relief in bluster- 
ing about the countryside with a band of armed men at his 

What opened the flood-gate of John Paston's woes, how- 
ever, was that his chief co-executors, Justices William Yelver- 
ton and William Jenney, turned against him, asserted that they 
had equal powers in the Fastolfe estate, and charged that the 
nuncupative will was a forgery. They put their own men in 
certain Fastolfe manors, sold their supposed rights in others to 
powerful figures like Gilbert Debenham, steward of the Duke 
of Norfolk, and supported the Duke's claim to Caister to gain 
his good will. With fertile ingenuity Justice Yelverton fought 


Paston in manor courts, sued him for trespass in the local 
courts of the shire, brought actions against him at Westmin- 
ster, haled him into the ecclesiastical courts on a charge of 
trumping up the Fastolfe will, and at one time tried to curry 
favour with the King by suggesting to Edward's brother-in- 
law, Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales, that he might well se- 
cure Caister since the Pastons were of servile origin and had 
no right to hold such land at all. 

When John Paston stayed at home to protect his properties 
and to counter law-suits, the legal battle in London went 
against him; when he hurried up to London to fight his ene- 
mies there, they brought on their suits hi the county courts and 
had him proclaimed an outlaw for non-appearance. In 1464 
and again in 1465 he suffered further incarcerations in Fleet 
Prison because he could not be everywhere at once. Mean- 
while, the Duke of Suffolk, buying up trumpery titles, began 
to harry the manors of Drayton and Hellesdon, and his mother 
Alice, announcing that Cotton belonged to her, held a manor 
court there. 

No wonder Richard Calle, beaten from manors and roughly 
handled in Norwich, despairingly informed his master that 
*ye must seek some other remedy than ye do, or else in my 
conceit it shall go to the Devil. . . .* Paston's family and 
friends begged him at any cost to find a protector. 'Spend 
somewhat of your good now and get you lordship and friend- 
ship, 5 he had been advised much earlier, f quia ibl pendet tota 
lex et prophetae [for thereby hangs all the law and the proph- 
ets]*. Margaret Paston and others urged him to turn to the de 
la Poles: 'Sundry folk have said to me that they think verily, 
but if ye have my lord of Suffolk's good lordship, while the 
world is as it is ye can never live in peace. . . .* Richard 
Calle thought that if his master could win the Duke of Nor- 
folk's favour, 'he should make all well, for they fear him above 
all things'. But John Paston struggled on alone until he died in 
London in 1466, wrecked by his ambitions. 

His two adult sons, on whom the fight devolved, appear al- 
most like figures in a morality play: Sir John, the unsteady 
man fashioned for failure; and young John, the man of sense 
likely to succeed. Humiliated by his father who had thougjit 


him a drone and dilettante and forced him to moulder penni- 
less at home, Sir John now rode jauntily up to London to take 
his place in the world of Court and to dally with grandiose 
schemes for winning the good lordship that had eluded John 
Paston; while young John, with but a small portion of his own, 
loyally laboured to hold together his brother's precarious es- 
tate. After tourneying at Eltham by the side of the king him- 
self and that master-jouster, Lord Scales, Sir John wrote ex- 
citedly to his brother in April of 1467, 'I would that you had 
been there and seen it, for it was the goodliest sight that was 
seen in England this forty years, [considering that there were] 
so few men.* To which young John replied dryly, 'By troth I 
had rather see you once in Caister Hall than to see as many 
king's tourneys as might be betweixt Eltham and London.' 
There lies the story of their lives until Sir John's death in 1479. 

Buoyantly, Sir John tried to advance in two diametrically 
opposite directions at once. In 1468 he became engaged to 
Mistress Anne Haute, a relative of the Woodvilles, and thereby 
thought that he had secured himself with the Queen's family, 
especially when Anthony Woodville, Lord Scales, announced 
openly that he meant to protect the Paston interests. In the 
same year Sir John somehow fell under the spell of the 
smooth-tongued George Neville, Archbishop of York (brother 
of Warwick the Kingmaker), at the moment when the Ne- 
villes, arch-enemies of the Queen and her kin, were moving to 
win every possible adherent in order to bring low the King 
who had flouted Warwick's scheme of a French alliance and 
had driven George himself from the chancellorship. Sir John 
lent a goodly sum of money to the Archbishop and persuaded 
his mother to raise an additional sum; for the Duke of Norfolk 
and his council were now asserting that they intended to seize 

In exchange for his money, Sir John enjoyed a heartening 
performance by the Nevilles in October of 1468. A corre- 
spondent reported to him, 'Ye may tell my Lord of York [the 
Archbishop] that it is open in every man's mouth in this coun- 
try the language that my Lord of York and my Lord of War- 
wick had to my Lord of Norfolk in the King's chamber, and 


that my Lord of York said, rather than the land should go so, 
he would come dwell there himself.' Norfolk gallantly ex- 
plained that it was his wife who was urging him to seize Cais- 
ter and said that he would 'entreat her 9 . 

The following spring, Sir John tried to activate, with young 
John doing the work, the Woodville flank of his campaign for 
lordship. On the way north to quell what seemed to be a minor 
rising, the King, accompanied hy a number of Woodvilles, 
came through East Anglia to visit Our Lady of Walsingham 
and raise men. Though the Duke of Norfolk was bringing 200 
adherents in blue and tawny livery to swell the royal forces, 
Edward IV bluntly informed William Brandon, a councillor 
of the Duke who tried to put in a word against the Pastons, 
'Brandon, though thou can beguile the Duke of Norfolk and 
bring him about the thumb as thou list, I let thee weet thou 
shalt not do me so; for I understand thy false dealing well 
enough.' He added that if Norfolk continued threatening Cais- 
ter and 'did anything that were contrary to his laws. . . . 
Brandon should repent it, every vein in his heart. . . .* 

Meanwhile, arriving in Norwich with the King, the Queen's 
kin made honeyed promises to young John Paston that both 
the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk would be brought to heel 
through Woodville influence. As soon as the royal party moved 
out of Norwich they would show Edward the smashed manor- 
house at Hellesdon and tell him all about Suffolk's wrong- 
doing. But when the damage was pointed out, the Kong merely 
remarked that 'as well it might fall down by itself as be plucked 
down'; if it had been plucked down, the Pastons should have 
sought legal redress. Though everybody, including the King, 
disliked the Duke of Suffolk, 4 Edward made clear that he in- 
tended to show special favour in no quarter by telling the Pas- 
tons 'to let the law proceed'. Young John concluded this recital 
to Sir John by a disillusioned estimate of Woodville 'good 
lordship': 'for all their words of pleasure, I cannot understand 
what their labour in this country hath done good; wherefore 

* The fact that Alice Idley in her petition to the Royal Council (see 
above, p. 184) dared to emphasize the part played by Suffolk in the at- 
tack on the manor of Drayton shows the Duke's lack of influence at 


be not over-swift till ye be sure of your land, but labour sore 
the law.' 

But labouring sore was not Sir John's forte, and he swung 
back immediately to the Neville connection, which now put 
him in close touch with young John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, 
whose father and brother had been beheaded in 1462 and 
who had just sealed his alliance with the Nevilles by marrying 
one of the Kingmaker's sisters. For a moment in early August 
[1469] Sir John's hopes must have soared, for Warwick and 
his cohorts defeated a royal army and took King Edward cap- 
tivehunting down and executing in the process Sir John's 
erstwhile friends Earl Rivers and his youngest son Sir John 
Woodville. But by the time the Duke of Norfolk laid siege to 
Caister Castle a few weeks later, the realm had grown so 
'queasy' and it was becoming so difficult to keep Edward 
caged, that Sir John's Neville friends could do no more for 
him than send down a servant of the Duke of Clarence on a 
vain mission to try to secure a truce. 

After young John had been forced to surrender Caister, Sir 
John continued to lead his attractive bachelor life in London, 
though the Duke of Norfolk's 'gallants' threatened young John 
and all Paston supporters with death and though the county 
was scandalized that Sir John did nothing for the family of 
John Daubeney, faithful Paston agent slain in the attack on 
Caister. People were 'saying that he might do no more for us 
but lose his life in your service and mine', John reminded his 
brother, 'and now he is half forgotten among us'. Before sum- 
mer, the Earl of Warwick and the King's brother George, 
Duke of Clarence, had fled to France, the Pastons' new friend 
John, Earl of Oxford, managed to follow them across the 
Channel, and slippery George Neville, Archbishop of York, 
was under guard at his great manor of The Moor in Hertford- 

But Paston hopes almost immediately flared up again. By 
October, King Edward was in flight for the Low Countries, 
the Kingmaker ruled at Westminster, and his adherent, the 
Earl of Oxford, now held sway in East Anglia. John Paston 
wrote jubilantly to his mother on the 12th, *I trust we shall do 
right well in all our matters hastily; for my Lady of Norfolk 


[Duchess Elizabeth, who clearly counted for more than her 
husband] hath promised to be ruled by iny Lord of Oxford in 
all such matters as belong to my brother and to me; and as 
for my Lord of Oxford, he is better lord to me, by my troth, 
than I can wish him. . . . The Duke and the Duchess [of 
Norfolk] sue to him as humbly as ever I did to them. ... As 
for the offices that ye wrote to my brother for and to me, 
they be for no poor men; but I trust we shall speed of other 
offices meetly for us, for my Master the Earl of Oxford bideth 
me ask and have. I trow my brother Sir John shall have the 
constableship of Norwich Castle, with 20 of f ee. . . .' 

So could fortune smile on men who dared to link their desti- 
nies to the ambitions of great magnates. But hardly six months 
passed before the Yorkists landed in Yorkshire, and Sir John 
and young John donned harness and took horse under the 
banner of the Earl of Oxford, to hunt down Bonder man Ed- 
ward'. Two weeks later they fought in Oxford's wing of the 
Neville-Lancastrian army on the fog-shrouded Field of Bar- 
net Warwick and his brother John, Marquess Montagu, were 
slain; the Earl of Oxford fled for Scotland; young John Paston, 
wounded in the hand by an arrow, and his elder brother came 
into London as prisoners. 

The quest for good lordship had failed once again. For the 
next few months the Paston brothers had to concentrate their 
energies on securing royal pardons. But "King Edward and his 
age were more tolerant than later times of rebels and broken 
oaths of allegiance. After the Pastons made a half-hearted 
attempt to resume the Woodville connection, young John was 
accepted once again as a 'servant 9 of the Duke of Norfolk: 
he was much liked t*y the Duchess, who had made her hus- 
band accord hin^ and his little garrison the honours of war in 
the surrender of Caister. Sir John, returning to his London 
ways, knitted up his tie with the Archbishop of York. 

The night before Edward had entered London, with War- 
wick and the Lancastrians in pursuit, George Neville bought 
his pardon from the King by sending secret word that he 
would deliver up Henry VI, whom Warwick had appointed 
him to guard. There is no record that, after the battle of Bar- 
net, he visited St Paul's to gaze upon the bodies of his two 


brothers, which for three days were exposed, naked save for 
loin-cloths, on the stone floor to prove to the world that the 
House of Neville was finished. Now the Archbishop of York 
was intriguing once more against Edward IV, probably with 
Edward's incorrigible brother George, Duke of Clarence. 

Sir John wrote happily to his mother early in January, 1472, 
that he had secured his pardon, 'for comfort whereof I have 
'been the merrier this Christmas . . . and before Twelfth 
[Night] I came to my Lord Archbishop, where I have had as 
great cheer and been as welcome as I could devise 9 . But within 
three months, King Edward, grown tired of George Neville's 
scheming, had him arrested and sent as a prisoner to Calais. 

The resilient Sir John soon found a new tie of lordship. 
From time to time he had been courting hi an off-hand way 
that irritated young John the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk; 
now, however, he pinned his hopes to an even more influential 
magnate, the amiable William, Lord Hastings, the King's 
greatest friend. Again he had chosen a bitter enemy of the 
Woodvilles. Anthony Woodville, now Earl Rivers, hated Has- 
tings because he had lost the governorship of Calais to the 
Lord Chamberlain. The Queen's eldest son, the Marquess of 
Dorset, hated Hastings because they were strenuous rivals for 
the boon companionship of their sovereign. The Queen herself 
hated Hastings because he was 'secretly familiar with the King 
in wanton company'. 

The Lord Chamberlain warmly welcomed Sir John's serv- 
ice, and for the rest of his life the elder Paston spent much 
time at Calais as a member of Hastings' retinue. This listening- 
post on the Continent, this trading and naval enclave steeped 
in the business dealings of the Merchants of the Staple, gave 
Sir John a bachelor life that he enjoyed. The winds of Europe 
blew the latest news by land and sea into the town. Distin- 
guished visitors spiced the social activities of garrison and 
merchants. On one occasion the young Lord Zouch was re- 
ported to be coming and Sir Thomas Hungerford's daughter 
and young Lady Harrington 'these be three great jewels', Sir 
John reported happily to his brother. 

The girls of Bruges in their high caps were only a short ride 
away, the stews of St. Omer an even shorter. Doubtless Sir 


John visited the Duke of Burgundy's funfair castle of Hesdin, 
close by, where blasts of wind blew up the ladies' skirts and 
where in the famous chamber hung with Jason tapestries, 5 
described by William Caxton, the ducal engineers somehow 
simulated thunder and lightning, rain and snow. It was excit- 
ing to be able to send home the latest tidings of the Duke, 
that firebrand of the age. In 1474 Charles the Rash gathered 
all his horses and all his men and laid siege to the little German 
town of Neuss on the Rhine; and while Europe watched and 
wondered as the siege went on month after month, Louis XI, 
the universal spider 9 , with infinite patience and infinite cun- 
ning wove the Duke a world to destroy himself in. But the 
surfaces of life held Sir John's eyes: Burgundian banners wav- 
ing over black-and-violet pavilions, the famed chivalry of Bur- 
gundy wheeling before the city walls, lances flashing in the 
sun 1 think that I should be sick but if I see it', he confessed 
to his brother. 6 

His duties were apparently light and he had plenty of leisure 
for reading his books. In an energetic moment, in order *to 
avoid idleness at Calais*, he sent word to young John, 1 must 
have mine instruments [i.e., deeds and estate-papers] which 
are in the chest in my chamber at Norwich. Pray send them 
me hither in haste. . . .' All in all, he summed up for his 
brother, 'Calais is a merry town*. 

Meanwhile young John stuck doggedly to managing his 
brother's properties and trying, through the good graces of the 
Duchess of Norfolk, to get Caister back. On his side, Sir John 
had better luck with Lord Hastings than with any other *good 

5 Depending on whether his mood was pious or pagan, Duke Philip of 
Burgundy ascribed the origin of his chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece 
to Jason or to Gideon. 

6 Sir John's former friend, Anthony WoodviBe, Earl Rivers, showed 
himself more prudent in his estimate of Charles, Duke of Burgundy. 
After a tour of Italian towns and shrines, during which the eternal 
banditti lurking outside the Eternal City plundered him of his baggage, 
Rivers had ridden into the Burgundian camp before Morat, in June of 
1476. Premonition or a respect for those froward carls', the Swiss, or 
the sight of the Duke's unruly army, English archers exchanging insults 
and knife-thrusts with Italian mercenaries, led Rivers to take a hasty de- 
parture the day before the battle. Duke Charles sneered at the Earl, but 
the next evening his army had been smashed to bloody ruin and he him- 
self was a galloping fugitive, eyes glazed with mad dreams. 


lord' he had essayed. As King Edward was returning to Eng- 
land, after his French invasion of 1475, he asked the Duke of 
Norfolk some pointed questions about the ownership of Cais- 
ter. But death played the trump card. The Duke died in 1476 
at the early age of thirty-two, and the Fastens quickly and 
quietly reoccupied Caister Castle. When Sir John himself per- 
ished of the plague in the dreadful year of 1479, however, 
his affairs were still so precarious that his last letter shows him 
struggling to scrape together - 10 in order to come home. 

Young John, now master of the Paston fortunes, found him- 
self saddled with debts, mortgages, law-suits, the long-con- 
tinued quarrel with the Duke of Suffolk, and an even more 
serious dispute with his Uncle William who was now trying 
to win a share of John's inheritance. Within half a dozen years, 
however, by shrewd management and hard work he succeeded 
in holding what remained to be held and in establishing him- 
self as one of the leading squires of Norfolk. Much depended, 
however, on where he elected to seek good lordship, and had 
he not made the choice he did, the Fastens would probably 
not have produced Henry VHTs greatest admiral and become, 
in the century that followed, Earls of Yarmouth. 

When Richard m ascended the throne, June 26, 1483, he 
created John Howard, now Lord Howard, Duke of Norfolk; 
and Howard became at a stride not only the dominant figure 
in East Anglia but, after the soon-to-be extinguished Duke of 
Buckingham, probably the greatest subject in the realm. 
Twenty-five years before, John Howard and John Paston had 
had a serious political quarrel; Howard and John Paston's sons 
had fought on opposite sides at Barnet; and on an occasion in 
1474 young John Paston had some sort of brush with How- 
ard, apparently while he was hunting. On the other hand, years 
before this Sir John and Gilbert Debenham had had 'words 
at London and Debenham should have struck him, had not 
Howard been [there]*; and in 1469 young John had enter- 
tained Howard at dinner along with others of the King's reti- 
nue. This sparse record offers little insight into Paston's atti- 
tude towards John Howard in 1483; there is no knowing 
whether his subsequent conduct sprang from dislike long cher- 
ished or from subtler calculations. 


The new Duke of Norfolk, for his part, did all he could to 
gain young John Paston's adherence. He confirmed the Pastons 
in possession of Caister Castle; and when, on the outbreak of 
Buckingham's rebellion, he hastily requested John to 'come 
hither, and bring with you six tall fellows in harness*, he signed 
himself "your friend, J. Norfolk*. There is no indication that 
John responded to this summons; but he probably at least 
showed himself friendly to the duke, for Howard's last sur- 
viving letter, written on the eve of Bosworth, in which he re- 
ported that 'the King's enemies be a-land* and asked John 
Paston to join him at Bury, concludes 'Your lover, J. Norfolk*. 

But John Paston sat on his estates and let others decide the 
fate of England by arbitrament of battle. The invading army 
of Henry Tudor was led by John, Earl of Oxford; and in the 
1470's after the Earl had been captured and imprisoned in 
Hammes Castle near Calais from which he had escaped to 
join Henry Tudor in France John Paston had shown kind- 
nesses to the poverty-stricken Countess of Oxford, Perhaps all 
these years he had remained loyal in his heart to the chief he 
had followed on the mist-wrapped plateau of Barnet 

In any case, Henry Tudor's triumph at Bosworfh made the 
Earl of Oxford one of the two or three mightiest subjects in 
England, and the Earl of Oxford made John Paston a trusted 
councillor and Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. In 1487 John 
fought with Oxford at the battle of Stoke and was knighted 
by Henry VII on the field. By the time he disappeared from 
history he had become so great a man in East Anglia that the 
erudite Bishop of Durham, one of the ornaments of the New 
Learning, wrote to him to propose that for as much as I have 
coals and other things in these parts and also ye have in those 
parts corn, wine, and wax' they might strike up a trade 
*whereby our f familiarity and friendship may be increased in 
time to come*. In the end, the stay-at-home younger brother 
won the girl he loved 7 and achieved the position in the great 
world which had slipped through the fingers of the high-flying 
elder brother. All Sir John left behind him was a bastard 
daughter, Constance, to whom Margaret Paston bequeathed 10 
marks in her will. 

7 See Chapter 10: The Marriage Hunt 


As the manor organized the working of the land, the house- 
hold of the manor framed the life lived on the land. The great 
English households dominated society from the days of Penda 
of Mercia to those of Edward VII, their functions and sig- 
nificance shifting in each successive age to fit the social idiom 
of the times. Just as, in the fourteenth century, feudal hos- 
pitality gave way to seignorial ostentation and the sprawling 
menies of 'bastard feudalism'; so in the Yorkist Age the great 
household swarming with the retainers of *bastard feudalism* 
was beginning to be transformed into the aristocratic menage 
of the Tudor period. Between them, Edward IV and Henry VIE 
put an end to the petty kingship of the overmighty subject; 
but a great hall stuffed with officers and servants and followers 
continued to signify status long after it had ceased to represent 
political power. In the first years of Henry VOT's reign the 
Earl of Northumberland maintained a household of 166 peo- 
ple; the year before the descent of the Spanish Armada, the 
Earl of Derby had 118 servants at his beck and call. 

Until his death in 1471 Warwick the Kingmaker main- 
tained one of the greatest households of Yorkist times at Mid- 
dleham in Wensleydale, Yorkshire. Here the King's youngest 
brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, served along with sev- 
eral noblemen's sons as a henchman in the 'schools of ur- 
banity*; and here in the darker days when King Edward had 
begun to challenge the power of the Nevilles, barons and 
knights and yeomen wearing the badge of the Ragged Staff 
crowded the great hall. Assiduously courting popularity an 
agent of Louis XI reported that wherever Warwick appeared 
'it seems to the people that God has descended from the skies' 
the Earl kept up a lavish London establishment, and anyone 
acquainted with a member of the household was permitted to 
carry away as much meat from the kitchens as he could thrust 
upon a long dagger. 

Edward's spoiled and shallow brother George, Duke of 
Clarence, surrounded himself with a household of 299 people, 
and when he journeyed from manor to manor he took 188 of 
them with him. After Warwick's death Richard of Gloucester 
became Lord of the North and held court at Middleham, a 
household more serviceable than ostentatiousfor he was 


Warden of the West Marches and Constable and Admiral of 
Englandto which the whole country north of Trent, towns- 
men as well as gentry, turned in time of need. The Duke of 
Norfolk at Framlingham Castle and the Earl of Northumber- 
land at Wressel and Leconf eld in eastern Yorkshire continued 
the traditions of Mowbray and Percy greatness. 

The household regulations of Edward IV sketch the estab- 
lishments proper to the upper ranks, from duke to esquire of 
the household. A duke might be expected to spend, as George 
of Clarence did, 4,000 a year on his household (equivalent 
to perhaps .120,000 or more today), about three-quarters 
of which would go for food and wages; and when a duke 
came to court, his chief household officers, steward and treas- 
urer, received the same service meted out to barons. A mar- 
quess fittingly spent 3,000 a year; an earl, 2,000; a vis- 
count, 1,000; a baron, 500; and so on down to an esquire 
of the body, 50. During Edward IVs reign there were prob- 
ably some 600 lords, gentry, and townsmen with incomes of 
100 a year or better; these were the men who maintained 
the web of great households within which English society had 
its being. 

Since 'attendance' projected the strongest signal of status, 
everybody from duke to gentleman kept as many officers and 
servants as his purse would support A retired London tailor 
left his business to his son on condition that *when that I or 
my wife walketh out my said son shall let me have an honest 
man child to wait upon me and an honest maid child to wait 
upon my wife, at his own proper cost if we desire if. To be 
or claim to be of gentle blood and hold no household was 
the heart of misery. A Yorkshire lady wrote sadly to her 
brother, 'My sister Dame Isabel liveth as heavy a life as any 
gentlewoman born, [on account of which] I fared never well 
since I saw her last month. House such, hath neither woman 
nor maid with her, but herself alone. And her husband cometh 
all day to my husband and saith the fairest language that ever 
ye heard. But all is wrong, he is ever in trouble. . - .' She 
added in a flash of outraged pride: 'And brother, I yede 
[went] to the Lord Scrope to have seen my lady [Scrope's 
daughter]; and by my troth I stood there a large hour, and yet 


I might neither see lord nor lady . . . and yet I had 5 men in 
a suit [livery] : there is no such 5 men in his house, I dare say.' 

The scramble to keep a great household quickly led to ex- 
travagance and debt. A friend of the Pastons rounded on one 
of John Paston's swaggering enemies with: 'That is the guise 
of your countrymen, to spend all the good they have on men 
and livery gowns and horse and harness and so bear it out for 
a while, and at the last they are but beggars; and so will ye 
do. ... As for Paston, he is a squire of worship, and of 
great livelode, and I wot he will not spend all his good at once, 
but he spareth [saves] yearly 100 mark or <100; he may do 
his enemy a shrewd turn and never fare the worse in his house- 
hold, nor the less men about him. Ye may not do so, but if it 
be for one season. I counsel you not to continue long as ye 
do. I will counsel you to seek rest with Paston.' 

From the manor at Ewelme, Oxfordshire, an officer of the 
Duke of Suffolk wrote on January 17, probably of 1471, to 
Thomas Stonor begging him to explain to the Chancellor why 
the Duke could not yet come to Parliament: The more part 
of my lord's servants were sent into Suffolk to the household 
there against Christmas, and the remnant of his servants that 
were here awaiting ... be forth with my lord's wife into 
Suffolk to bring her thither. ... I dare say he hath here at 
this day awaiting upon his lordship not a dozen persons. And 
so my lord might not come at London himself at this time to 
his worship, and his servants from him.' 

Thomas Stonor's son Sir William soon fell into extravagant 
ways, zestfully abetted by his first wife, Dame Elizabeth. An 
uncle-by-marriage wrote to him anxiously, Tor God's sake 
beware now . . . and stablish your household sadly and wisely 
with a convenient fellowship so as ye may keep you within 
your livelode. ... I pray you that ye will not over-wish you 
nor over-purchase you nor over-build you, for these three 
things will pluck a young man right low. Nor meddle not with 
no great matters in the law. . . . And, sir, as it is told me, ye 
do make a fair new garden; in the which I pray you for my 
sake to set two herbs, the which be Patience, Thyme.' Dame 
Elizabeth, daughter and widow of merchants, so much en- 
joyed playing the great lady with her 'menie of boys* that her 


friend Thomas Betson, Merchant of the Staple, several times 
gently warned her to remember large expenses and beware 
of them'. 

In the most flamboyant and cynicalgesture of the day, 
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, after he had helped the 
Duke of Gloucester to arrange the execution of Lord Hastings 
(June 13, 1483), showed the amplitude of his means by im- 
mediately taking into his service all of Hastings* *f eedmen*. 

Since wages, one of the chief items of expense, fell due 
faster than rents came in, even the greatest lords were often 
pinched for ready money; the grandfather of the foregoing 
Duke of Buckingham put off a creditor by confessing, 1 have 
but easy stuff of money within [sic] me, for so much as the 
season of the year is not yet grown 9 he was helpless until har- 
vest time arrived and the Michaelmas rents came in. The Duke 
of York, leaving some jewellery in pledge, borrowed 437 
from Sir John Fastolfe in 1452; ten years later the debt had 
not yet been completely repaid. The Stonors, the Plumptons, 
the Pastons were almost constantly plagued by debts and em- 
barrassed by a shortage of cash. To provide a tomb for his 
father, Sir John Paston had to sell the cloth-of-gold pall, which 
his mother had already borrowed money on. But then in aH 
ages, it seems, the rich tend to be poor in purse, a perpetual 
mystery to the threadbare creditor. 

The rise of John Howard, one of the key figures of the 
Yorkist Age, was owing in part to the fact that among his 
ranging talents he possessed the capacity to manage money; 
his household kept pace with his position and his interests but 
also with his means. Even when he was but a knight, he put 
some 130 people in mourning gowns at the death of his first 
wife. Substituting for the Duke of Norfolk as Earl Marshal 
at the joust between Lord Scales and the Bastard of Burgundy, 
Howard spent at least 200 to accomplish his honorific 
duties, trapped himself and his horse in silks and polished steel, 
and was served by a retinue of seventy men in livery jackets. 
Yet he seemed always able to lend large sums of money: to 
the king, to his needy cousin the Duke of Norfolk, to neigh- 
bouring clothiers and chapmen, to yeomen archers serving 
with him on campaign. He built ships, for himself and for 


Edward IV, and commanded fleets. When the Bastard of Bur- 
gundy got word in London of the death of his father, Howard 
was chosen to speed him homeward across the Channel. In 
the spring of 1470 he attacked Warwick's flotilla in the Nar- 
row Seas and wrested several prizes from it. A dozen years 
later he led a great raid into the Firth of Forth which left a 
trail of burnt shipping in Scots harbours. Meanwhile Edward 
IV had entrusted him with important diplomatic missions, and 
after the Treaty of Picquigny (1475) he had become the chief 
English envoy to the court of Louis XI, 

Lover of Colchester oysters and of the sea from which they 
were ripped, this hardy Essexman (he seems to belong more 
to Essex than to Suffolk) enlivened his chambers with music 
and plays. On October 18, 1482, 'my lord made covenant with 
William Wastell of London, harper, that he shall have the son 
of John Colet of Colchester, harper, for a year, to teach him 
to harp and sing, for the which teaching my lord shall give 
him 13s 4d and a gown'. Howard maintained in his household 
Thomas the Harper', at least one adult singer, and four child 
singers for his chapel. His account books show him enjoying 
music of all lands the humble drone of a village bagpiper, 
my lord of Gloucester's trumpeters, the 'Wayts' of London 
who carolled for him when he visited the capital. Actors found 
a warm welcome in his hall. Richard of Gloucester's players 
and the Earl of Essex's players doubtless performed more 
sophisticated morality dramas than the troupes from neigh- 
bouring towns who also trod his boards. He enabled likely 
village lads to study at Cambridge, collected books, and was 
free with alms. But he did not waste his money on idle serv- 
ants; and even after he became Duke of Norfolk he sat down 
every Saturday night with his steward and annotated the ac- 
counts in his own hand. 

A generation later, Henry Algernon Percy, Earl of North- 
umberland, left such menial tasks to his battery of officers. 
Percy's household regulations, imitating royal ordinances as 
the Earl imitated royal state, probably offer a tolerable like- 
ness of the households of George, Duke of Clarence, and 
other magnates of the Yorkist Age. Supporting an establish- 
ment of 166 people, 133 fewer than that of Clarence, the Earl 


was attended at mealtimes by five henchmen, three of them 
at his 'finding' and two 'at their friends' finding*, and was 
served by gentlemen sewers, butlers, cupbearers and carvers. 
Twenty attendants waited upon him in the great chamber in 
the morning, eighteen hi the afternoon, and thirty hi the eve- 
ning. Seven gentlemen singers and five chapel children sang 
Mass for him. My lord's six chaplains, headed by a Dean of 
the Chapel, included 'the almoner, and if he be a maker of 
interludes then he to have a servant to the intent for writing 
of the parts', and a 'master of grammar*. At dinner and other 
festive occasions three minstrels played on taboret (drum), 
lute and rebec (primitive violin). 

Like the royal household, the Earl's establishment was man- 
aged in the countinghouse, where his four chief officers 
watched over the activities of yeomen, clerks, and grooms, 
including 'a groom for the mouth and a groom for the larder*. 
Northumberland had a secretary and a clerk of the signet to 
compose letters at his dictation; a herald and a pursuivant, 
dad in his arms, bore these messages with fitting dignity. When 
he removed from Wressel, he was accompanied by a riding 
household of fifty-seven persons, preceded by harbingers and 
kitchen officers to arrange for suitable lodgings; and behind 
this princely cavalcade jolted seventeen carts, bearing my 
lord's minutely specified baggage. In the autumn, when his 
Dfficers were taking inventory and Wressel was being cleaned 
and fumigated, the Earl retired to one of his smaller manors, 
svhere he managed to get along with a retinue of forty-two 
people, called his 'secret household'. Tens of estate officers, 
parkers and keepers and bailiffs and surveyors and huntsmen, 
lid quarterly tours of duty to swell the 'attendance' in the 
household. Nothing was left to chance or even to the impulse 
Df generosity or piety. The Earl's gifts and the Earl's good 
svorks were as carefully embalmed in his ordinances as the 
modest breakfast of fish that he ate on 'scamlyng days', Mon- 
iays and Saturdays in Lent. At Requiem Mass sung for the 
souls of the Knights of the Garter, my lord offered 4d; he 
gave his barber 12d for every shaving and bestowed 6s 8d 
Dn the children of the chapel when they sang a 'Respond' 
called Exaudivi. The messenger who 'bringeth his lordship his 


New Year's gift from the king upon the New Year's Day, if 
he be a special friend of my lord's' received '6 13s 4d, and 
if he be a servant of the King's and but a particular person, 
100s'. Yearly the Earl's household consumed ,25 19s 7d 
worth of spices. His total annual expenditure came to 933 
6s 8d (viz. .2,000 suggested for an Earl in the Black Book 
of Edward IV) . The House of Percy was now in decline and 
this stay-at-home lord did nothing to restore its fortunes. He 
died with cash assets of -13 6s 8d and debts amounting to 

Just as nobles and gentry of the Yorkist Age imitated the 
Eong's household, so too did they imitate the King in main- 
taining a council. The council of a magnate like the Duke of 
Norfolk, consisting of his chief household and estate officers, 
lawyers retained in his service, two or three neighbouring lords 
and knights, frequently served as a local court of arbitration. 
Richard of Gloucester's council at Middleham became such 
an effective instrument of justice in the 1470's that after Rich- 
ard became king he created the Council of the North, which 
the Tudors continued. John Paston won his way to the rich 
Fastolfe inheritance as Fastolfe's most trusted councillor; 
Paston in turn had a council which included his receiver Rich- 
ard Calle, and the faithful John Daubeney, who was killed in 
the siege of Caister, and John Damme, master of Sustead 

The great households brightened the lives of country- 
dwellers by their round of seasonal entertainments. Easter 
Week ushered in the spring with a mixture of secular and 
religious pageantry. The Earl of Northumberland, clad hi a 
robe of violet broadcloth furred with seventy-five skins of 
black lamb, *to as many poor men as my lord is years of age 
. . and one for the year of my lord's age to come' gave 
gowns with hoods attached, linen shirts, wooden platters fall 
of bread and meat, ashen cups brimming with wine, leather 
purses each containing as many pennies as the Earl's years; 
and then he gave his own gorgeous gown to the poorest man 
that could be found among those crowding his doors. 

As summer approached, the household began to be cheered 
by all manner of itinerant shows as the King's minstrels and 


trumpeters, Ms bearward and bear took to the roads along 
with similar entertainers from the halls of dukes, barons, and 
wealthy gentry. Village bagpipers and city minstrels and play- 
ers, troupes of 'rude mechanicals' from surrounding hamlets, 
jugglers and quacks and friars with wondrous relics performed 
in the hall or in the courtyard. At all times board games 
formed a staple diversion for the lord and his household; and 
games of cards, introduced in this age, became immediately 
popular. Sir John Howard and the Duke of Norfolk whiled 
away winter evenings while they were on the King's service 
in Wales by playing cards with the Duke's steward. This of- 
ficer had at least one very lucky evening, for Sir John had to 
borrow from him 13s 4d so that the Duke could pay his score 
and Sir John then borrowed four marks to pay his own score. 
Chess beguiled many an hour. Howard paid a 'limner' of Bury 
20d for painting two chess boards. Another old game, tables' 
(backgammon) still held its own, and, like cards, provided a 
genteel form of gambling. On one occasion Howard managed 
to lose 27s 4d during an evening's play. 

Seasonal entertainments reached their climax in the cele- 
bration of Christmas. On the Eve of St. Nicholas (Dec. 5) one 
of the children of the chapel or a child from the village ap- 
peared at the service dressed as St. Nicholas, and the house- 
hold trouped from the chapel into the hall for singing and 
games. On the day itself a 'boy-bishop', arrayed in state, 
preached a sermon and was then feasted. Depending on 
whether he kept Christmas at Wressel or Leconf eld, the Earl 
of Northumberland yearly received the Boy-Bishop of Bever- 
ley or the Boy-Bishop of York. This lad often received costly 
gifts and if he was clever of tongue or well coached, his ser- 
mon might be written down and preserved. 

Now the master of the revels began rehearsing entertain- 
ments, and the Lord or Abbot of Misrule led his boisterous 
crew in mumming^ and 'disguisings', forerunners of the Tudor 
masque, and persuaded the lord to gamble at dice with them, 
a tradition of the season. Sir John Howard sent to London or 
Colchester for wildfire and cloth and other 'stuff for disguis- 
ing'. Even quite modest households burst into a bloom of en- 
tertainments on the twelve days from Christmas to Twelfth 


Night. After the death of Margaret Paston, her daughter-in- 
law Margery (Brews) sent her eldest little boy to my Lady 
Morley to have knowledge what sports were used in her house 
in Christmas next following after the decease of my lord, her 
husband; and she said that there were none disguisings nor 
harping nor luting nor singing nor none loud disports, but 
playing at the tables and chess and cards. Such disports she 
gave her folks leave to play and none other.' 

On Christmas Day the boar's head was borne to the high 
table to the accompaniment of songs and carols. At the law- 
yers* inns in London a cat and a fox were sometimes hunted 
round the festal boards, and the Lord of Misrule, riding into 
the hall on a mule, held a fantastic court. On New Year's 
morning children of the chapel and minstrels sang at the cham- 
ber doors of the lord and his lady. Horsemen arrived with 
gifts from the king and queen and from friends, kinsmen, 
well-wishers; while the lord's messengers rode abroad on the 
same errand. When Sir John and Lady Howard kept Christmas 
with the newly married Edward IV at Eltham (1464), Sir 
John gave the royal heralds 10s, the minstrels 10s, the trum- 
peters 10s, the officer of the cellar 20s, the pantry 20s and 
the buttery 20s. He presented the King with a 'courser' named 
Lyard Duras which had cost him 40 and the Queen with a 
courser called Lyard Lewes which cost 8. Servants and 
officers of the household often gave gloves to their master and 
mistress and might receive in return gifts of money which 
equalled a quarter of their wages. The Earl of Northumber- 
land bestowed a noble each (6s 8d) on his three henchmen, 
20s on the Abbot of Misrule, and 20s on the master of the 
revels 'for the overseeing and ordering of his lordship's plays, 
interludes, and dressing what is played before his lord- 
ship. . . .* 

Outdoors, too, the changing seasons brought numerous di- 
versions and folk ceremonies. Hunting and poaching were the 
chief sports in the greenwood. Merchants as well as gentry 
were securing licences in ever increasing numbers to enclose 
parks and build warrens. Even when the Celys were riding 
into the Cotswolds on business, they flew their hawks at game 
along the road. Hunting was expensive; a good hawk was hard 


to come by and cost as much as a horse. English dogs grey- 
hounds and mastiffs and English and Irish horses were highly 
regarded on the Continent. Louis XI, probably the master 
hunter of the age, many tunes sent across the Channel for 
dogs and horses. The Duke of Milan once armed an agent of 
his with 1,000 gold ducats to buy hunting animals hi England 
because they were 'of rare excellence'. 

The quieter pleasures of walking were also appreciated. Sir 
William Sandes, who owned a manor adjoining one of the 
Stonor manors, sent word to Sir William Stonor that Stonor*s 
farmer 'is a troublesome fellow. . . . Sometime as I walk in 
my recreation I may see that in your woods he hath made 
great waste . . .'. The sport of tennis was enjoyed in town 
and country. In London one day Sir John Howard lost 3s 4d 
in a game with Sir Robert Chamberley. The execution of Rich- 
ard Skeres, London skinner, was much lamented by one of 
the chroniclers because Skeres had been 6 one of the cunning- 
est players at the tennis in England, for he was so deliver 
[agile] that he would stand in a tub that should be near breast- 
high and leap out of the same . . . and win of a good player*. 

Encouraged by Parliament and authority everywhere, arch- 
ery continued to be a popular sport with all classes, though, as 
Sir John Fortescue pointed out, it 'may not be done without 
right great expenses, as every man expert therein knoweth 
right well'. The Grocers of London had archery butts in their 
garden; a salter bequeathed a new bow to each of twenty 
neighbours in his parish 'that useth the sport of shooting*. 
When Sir John Howard rode abroad he enjoyed watching 
champion village bowmen display their art and he himself 
often took a hand in the sport. One day at York he lost at the 
pricks (slender wands) 8d and at the butts another 8d and 
spent 4d treating to ale and bread. On country greens village 
and manor teams competed at wrestling; and all over England 
men bowled and kicked footballs, though these pastimes were 
frowned on as effeminate. 

The election of Knights of the Shire sometimes furnished 
the gentry a hearty gastronomic diversion. In the verdant 
April weather of 1467, Sir John Howard and Sir Thomas 
Brews conducted a successful campaign at Ipswich, in the 


course of which they refreshed the voters with a feast that 
included 8 oxen, 24 calves, 24 sheep, 20 lambs, 30 pigs, 12 
pheasants, 108 capons, 240 chickens, 120 rabbits, 800 eggs, 
140 pairs of pigeons, 32 gallons of milk, ,3 9s worth of 
bread (at a penny for a big loaf) , wine by the hogshead cost- 
ing 3 13s 4d, as well as 13s 2d for 'wine at gentlemen's 
lodgings besides', 20 barrels of double beer (best beer), 16 
barrels of single beer, 8 bushels of flour for doucettes (pas- 
tries), 24s worth of drinkings at taverns. The meal was pre- 
pared by four cooks, receiving 13s 4d, aided by twelve la- 
bourers who got 4s and by six lads paid 18d. Howard and 
Brews must have ridden into Ipswich with a long train of sup- 
porters, for the cost of stabling horses at bins during the day 
came to 44s 6d. The two Knights of the Shire had to settle a 
bill of 40 17s 6d (something like 1,500 today.) 

Folk games and ceremonies responded to the changing sea- 
sons as inevitably as burgeoning hawthorn or the browning 
hillsides of autumn. In the North the beginning of field work 
after the Christmas festivities was marked by Plough Monday. 
Men and boys dragged a plough about the village,, did a dance 
in fantastic costumes, and took up a collection; anyone who 
failed to contribute was likely to have the path before his door 
ploughed up. At Easter-tune the *wythe', a garland of 
branches, was ceremoniously borne into the manor house, and 
all true hearts were expected to *pay to the wythe'. Then came 
'hocking' on the second Monday and Tuesday after Easter 
Sunday. On the Monday women caught and bound men with 
ropes and would not release them till they had paid a forfeit; 
the next day men 'hocked' women; sometimes chains were 
stretched across a road so that a toll might be exacted of all 
who passed. Sir John Howard, riding home hi April of 1464, 
paid 16d 'in hocking at Sudbury% and when he arrived hi his 
own village of Stoke Neyland he gave 12d to the hock-pof, 
which was probably donated to the parish church. The church 
likewise benefited from church-ales, at which parishioners on 
a fine spring day gathered in the churchyard to drink the brew 
which the church-wardens had produced for the occasion. 
*Rusfa-bearings' saw young people decking altars and nave with 
greenery while a village fiddler played for dancing in the 


churchyard and cemetery. In the North the church precincts 
became the scene of the 'Summer-game*: an unmarried girl 
and an unmarried young man were crowned King and Queen 
of Summer and kept then- state upon thrones surrounded by 
'knights' and other functionaries. 

During the Yorkist Age, May Day ushered in the gayest 
season of the year with vernal ceremonies that would wither 
a little not long after; for the Reformation, not without cause, 
smelled paganism in the rites of the day. Before dawn young 
people were trouping into field and wood to 'bring in the May*, 
crowns and garlands of spring flowers; and many a *green 
gown' was given, with or without vows, in forest glades. Ale 
flowed on the green as boys performed Morris dances and 
sword dances taught them by their fathers. Robin Hood and 
Maid Marian presided over the village pageant; for the reign 
of Edward IV signals the ripest age of the Robin Hood legend. 
Sir John Paston one day complained to bis brother John that 
he had been deserted by a servant whose idleness he had long 
condoned: *I have kept him these three years to play St 
George and Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham*. 8 As 
late as the brief reign of Edward VI (1547-53), Bishop Lati- 
mer found himself unable to preach on May Day in a certain 
country town because there was no one to listen to him: 'It is 
Robin Hood's day,* he was told. The parish are gone abroad 
to gather for Robin Hood.* 

Mentions of Robin Hood first began to occur in the latter 
half of the fourteenth century. By 1439 a petition in Parlia- 
ment called for the arrest of Piers Venables of Derbyshire, 
who *in manner of insurrection went into the woods in that 
country, like as it had been Robin Hood and his menie*. A 
'Robin of Holderness* stirred up riots in the East Riding of 
Yorkshire in the spring of 1469 a few days before Sir John 
Conyers, calling himself Robin of Redesdale, fomented a rising 
on behalf of the Earl of Warwick. Robin Hood ballads blos- 
somed in the propitious air of Edward IVs reign-one of the 
earliest extant refers to 'Edward, our comely King' for Robin 

8 The passage is usually interpreted as meaning that Sir John hired 
the man for his acting abilities, but the context makes dear that Sir 
John regarded him as good for nothing else. 


Hood and the English yeomen rose into prominence together. 
He represented their sturdy independence, then: romantic 
dreams of the good life, their private image of themselves: he 
is lord of the forest, prince of wits, a nonpareil of archers, a 
master poacher, a true-hearted subject, an untrusser of fat rich 
rascally prelates; and if he must meet a tragic end it will be 
the Church, in the shape of a nun, who will do him in. Min- 
strels singing ballads of Robin Hood knew where their au- 
dience lay: 

God have mercy on Robin Hood's soul 
And save all good yeomanry! 

Scattered among Robin Hood's forests and expanses of 
waste, the manors and villages of the realm were connected 
with each other and with the cities by a network of roads that 
earned no encomiums in the records of the day. Old Roman 
highways, their surfaces sometimes much broken but their 
foundations still solid, fanned out from London to form the 
principal roads of England: the much-travelled route to Can- 
terbury and Dover; the road through Winchester and Salisbury 
and Shaftesbury to Exeter; Watling Street running northwest 
to Chester and beyond; the Ermine Street striking northward 
through eastern England; the Icknield Way in East Anglia, A 
network of subsidiary routes had sprung up during the Middle 
Ages, often no more than tracks across a heath or a rough 
detour from the highway to take in a town that had appeared 
since Roman days. The average road was a country lane run- 
ning through deep woods and across sweeps of moor and 
marsh, un-signposted, generating forks and branching tracks 
to puzzle the traveller, sometimes ending abruptly at a ford 
that .had disappeared under high water. 

The records of manor courts and towns, wills and other 
documents complain of 'foul ways* and decayed bridges and 
flooded causeways and stretches of highway described as 
'broken, hollow, and ruinous . . . and dangerous in winter*. 
Repair of bridges, fords, roads was the responsibility of the 
manor or borough through which they ran; but abbots and 
lords and corporations not infrequently failed their obligations, 
or their tenants, as the fines recorded on manor court-rolls 


show, neglected to replace broken pavements and clean out 

During the turbulent decade of the 1450's and at other 
times when the realm was shaken by discord, hedges and 
forests served on occasion as places of ambush for the ac- 
complishment of private revenge. Ten rioters lay in await in 
the highway under Thorpe Wood upon Philip Berney, esquire 
[Margaret Paston's uncle] and his man, and shot at them and 
smote their horses with arrows, and then over-rode them and 
broke a bow on the said Philip's head and took him prisoner, 
calling him traitor.' Berney never regained his health after 
this beating and fifteen months later 'passed to God with the 
greatest pain that ever I saw'. As William Tresham, Speaker 
of the Commons of Parliament, rode to meet the Duke of 
York in the late summer of 1450, he was waylaid at dawn one 
morning near Thorpeland Close, Northamptonshire, by a band 
of armed men hiding behind a long hedge, who 'feloniously 
issued out and smote him through the body a foot and more 
and gave him many and great deadly wounds and cut his 
throat 1 . 

But every age has its spectacular crimes of violence. Rob- 
bery was a much more common fate than ambush. Sir John 
Fortescue pointed with some pride to the robberies committed 
in the realm as proof that the English had much more spirit 
than the French: *It hath often been seen in England that 
three or four thieves, for poverty, hath set upon seven or eight 
true men and robbed them all. There be more men hanged 
in England in a year for robbery and manslaughter than there 
be hanged in France for such cause of crime in seven years.* 
The Venetian diplomat, who perhaps had been told some tall 
tales, thought that there was *no country in the world where 
there are so many thieves and robbers as in England; in so 
much that few venture to go alone into the country excepting 
in the middle of the day, and fewer still in the towns at night, 
and least of all in London*. Without question, there was a deal 
of highway robbery, as there would be until the nineteenth 

Yet, though roads were often bad, and sometimes unsafe, 
at all seasons of the year travellers imperturbably made their 


way up and down the realm. After all, much of the informa- 
tion about foul ways comes from wills in which men left 
money for road repair, and from municipal and manor docu- 
ments which indicate that steps were being taken to improve 
conditions. Gilds and towns and private individuals contributed 
funds for upkeep of bridges, streets, causeways, fords. The 
roads were probably better than they would become in suc- 
ceeding centuries; for most traffic, passenger and freight, was 
borne on horseback, and heavy carts and carriages had not 
yet scored deep ruts. The Pastons and the Stonors and the 
Celys and the Plumptons make nothing of the badness of the 
roads. John Shfllingf ord gives no sign of considering it a hard- 
ship to ride from Exeter to London several times in mid- 
winter. Probably as many people in the reign of Edward IV 
as in the twentieth century reached their destinations without 

Travellers on horseback often averaged between thirty and 
forty miles a day, and special messengers, hiring relays of 
horses, made even better time. John Shillingf ord inf ormed his 
aldermen in the autumn of 1447, 1 rode from Exeter on Fri- 
day and came to London on Tuesday betimes [early] at seven 
at clock.' The following year on a Wednesday in May he left 
Exeter at seven in the morning and 'the next Saturday there- 
after at seven o'clock in the morning I came to London'. De- 
pending upon the season, the weather, the moon, and the 
traveller's urgency, the journey from Exeter to London, about 
170 miles, could be accomplished in four or five days. The 
Pastons sometimes rode from Norwich to London in less than 
three days, but the trip usually took a full three days and 
occasionally a traveller entered London on the morning of 
the fourth day. 

Bishop Redman, a Visitor of the Praemonstratensians, cov- 
ered the distance of about 170 miles from Torre Abbey to 
the capital in four days. A delegation of citizens left Shrews- 
bury on a Wednesday and arrived in London hi time for din- 
ner (usually about 11 A.M.) on Saturday, covering 153 miles 
in three and a half days. They slept at Wolverhampton on 
Wednesday nigfct, at Daventry on Thursday, spent Friday night 
at St Albans, and rode into London the next morning. People 
leaving the capital bound for the Continent usually passed the 


first night on the Dover road at Rochester, the second night 
at Canterbury, and reached Dover by noon of the third day. 
With luck, they might be in Calais by nightfall for when wind 
and tide were right and no Breton corsairs showed sail, com- 
munications between Dover or Sandwich and Calais were 
rapid. A Cely letter written in London on November 9 was 
answered at Calais on the 12th. Young Richard Cely on Sep- 
tember 2, 1480, sent a letter from Dover to his brother George 
at Calais asking him to be at Boulogne the following day, and 
George fulfilled the rendezvous. 

The chief waterways of England carried a heavy traffic. 
After Edward TV visited Croyland Abbey in the fens in the 
early summer of 1469, he took ship and sailed up the Nene 
to Fotheringhay Castle. Barges plied the Ouse, the Trent, the 
Severn, the Thames, the Avon, the Medway, and even smaller 
streams. The Stonors, like other gentry, dispatched many a 
bale and barrel of stuff purchased in London to Henley, the 
river journey taking about four days. Dame Elizabeth Stonor 
received a rude shock when bargemen refused her packages 
because they had not yet received their money for previous 
shipments: Truly,* she wrote in virtuous amazement, 1 never 
had a thing carried by them but that I paid them truly before.* 

The first royal postal system in England Louis XI had in- 
vented the device a few years before-was instituted by Ed- 
ward IV in 1482 in order to receive speedy tidings of his 
brother Richard's expedition into Scotland. Ten men were sta- 
tioned along the road from London to Berwick, a distance of 
some 335 miles, so that each man rode a relay of about thirty 
miles. Richard himself, when he became King, revived the 
system in 1484; it appears that he increased the rapidity of 
transmission by adding extra riders so that each had but 
twenty miles to cover. 

Though well-horsed messengers galloping main roads could 
achieve more than fifty miles a day, when travelers struck off 
into the countryside to reach a smaB town or manor, they 
often had to fee a native in order to find their way. Setting out 
for Yorkshire, Sir John Howard hired a guide for die dan- 
gerous crossing of The Wash; on leaving Pontefract be needed 
another guide to show him the way to Cawthorne; and when 
he rode into Lancashire he and his party lost the road and 


were rescued by 'a maid that taught the way over Didsbury 
Forth' at which point the Howard account book almost bursts 
into a ballad. Even when quite close to home, men sometimes 
had to open their purses in order to reach their destinations. 
Sir John Howard's Norwich draper, Portland, had to be guided 
to Long Stretham in his own Norfolk county; and apparently 
the journey proved difficult, for he paid 8d for the service. 

Geoffrey Chaucer would have found himself at home on 
the roads of the England of Edward IV. He would meet par- 
ties of pilgrims journeying to Our Lady of Walsingham or to 
Canterbury, country knigjits riding to a 'Shire Day* with a 
cavalcade of friends and tenants, a lord and his lady in crim- 
son velvet heading a retinue of servants and a train of carts 
as they moved from one manor to another, a gay clerk with 
a hawk on his fist, friars and pardoners tramping then: rounds 
from village to village, chapmen with shoulder-bag or 
sumpter-horse stuffed with merchandise, a Yeoman of the 
Crown riding hard with privy seals in his pouch. . . . 

But at times Dan Geoffrey would be bound to realize that 
the world had changed a little since the days of the ill-fated 
Richard n. There was a greater diversity of travellers and of 
traffic. Men dressed as yeomen were riding surprisingly good 
horses and perhaps had a servant or two at their shoulders. 
Many more trains of pack-animals laden with bales of cloth 
were plodding the roads now; and clothiers in amazing num- 
bers were riding with their employees from village to village 
to bring thread to the weavers or cloth to the dyers. Most 
surprising of all, perhaps, common carriers were plying regular 
routes from town to town and from all the chief towns to 

The common carrier and his cart, or more likely his sump- 
ter-horses, had begun to make his appearance in England 
about the time of Chaucer's death in 1400. By the beginning 
of the reign of Edward IV, in 1461, he had become an in- 
stitution. From as far away as Exeter and Bristol and Shrews- 
bury and York and Lincoln and Norwich carriers made their 
way to London on more or less scheduled journeys. The inns 
in the capital where they ended their trips were as well-known 
as twentieth-century railway stations. When Sir John Paston 
was looking for a parcel from home, he sent a servant to 


Blossom's Inn in St. Margaret's Lane off Cheapside. Carriers 
seem to have adhered quite well to their timetables. Writing 
on a Sunday in London, Sir John asked for stuff to be sent 
him so that he could have it by the coming weekend. Mar- 
garet Paston requested her men in London to send her food 
and cloth *by the next carrier*. 

When people shipped money or jewellery by carrier, they 
sometimes resorted to stratagems. Thomas Makyn, request- 
ing his master in London to send him 40s by the Oxford 
carrier, added, "Buy a pound of powdered pepper to carry 
the money privily, or else two pounds of rice, for that makes 
great bulk.* John Paston once suggested, Teradventure with 
some trusty carrier might some money come trussed in some 
fardel, not knowing [unknown] to the carrier that it is no 
money but some other cloth or vestment of silk. . . .* Direc- 
tions like these do not necessarily betray doubt of a carrier's 
honesty. Since carriers were responsible in law for the goods 
they transported, they undoubtedly charged a much higher rate 
for money and jewellery, and Makyn and John Paston were 
perhaps thinking of cheating the carrier rather than of being 
cheated by him. 

Historians have generally neglected the role of the common 
carrier in transforming manor life during the Yorkist Age. 
Before he appeared on the scene only lords and the wealthiest 
gentry could afford to keep men in their service to fetch and 
carry goods and missives. Manor-dwellers were largely de- 
pendent on the products of their fields and of the shops in a 
neighbouring town; and family news and tidings of affairs in 
the realm came to them haphazardly and often at long in- 

With the advent of the common carrier, the London market 
stood at the yeoman's gate; he could communicate readily 
with friends in London; and he might receive frequent news 
of the great world. The quantities of letters written in this age 
attest more than the spread of education: there had now ar- 
rived a sure and steady means of dispatching them. The grow- 
ing sense of nationalism, the rise of an informed yeomanry, 
the greater sophistication and enlarged comfort of manor life, 
and the increasing domination of London in the Yorkist Age 
all owed something to the common carrier. 


THE Church lay upon the realm, ubiquitous as the damp Eng- 
lish air. It had so embedded itself in lay society that, like two 
plants that have worked their way into each other's vitals, 
these institutions had achieved an apparently inseparable ac- 
commodation, giving and taking* The English Church was 
now so old, so massive, so complex, and it had so saturated 
the daily life of the people that one could hardly say where 
religion ended and secular existence began. It was believed 
that the Church owned one-third and, in fact, it probably did 
own almost one-quarter of all the land of England. 

Men were baptized into the community of Christendom, 
they were married at church door, they were laid to rest in 
church ground, their souls were fortified by church prayers. 
King, lords, wealthy townsmen and gentry all began the day 
by hearing Mass in their chapels; for daily Mass expressed 
status as much as furs and a retinue of servants. Ordinary folk 
attended services on Sundays and on the principal feasts of 
the Church. This observance was enforced by law as well as 
piety; back-sliders and other offenders against Holy Church 
were forced to do penance on town greens and in churchyards 
for all to see. 

For attacking a priest with a spade, Richard Tylly of Taun- 
ton was excommunicated; when he submitted himself some 
months later for correction, he was required 'with bare head 
and feet and clothed only hi a shirt and breeches and holding 
in his hand the spade [to] walk in procession around St Mary 
Magdalen on two Sundays and on one Sunday similarly [to] 
walk round the cjiapel of St. James, and also [to] walk once 


round the market-place of Taunton, and when he comes to 
the middle of it stand still for a time at the discretion of the 
chaplain with a whip in his hand who follows him. . . .' 

From King to peasant, everyone bore candles round the 
church at Candlemas, crept to the Cross on Good Friday, 
watched miracle plays on Corpus Christi, listened to the all- 
night ringing of the bells on All Hallows Eve, had friends and 
kin among the clergy, enjoyed the preaching of an eloquent 
friar and the pillorying of a rascally clerk, and, when spring 
had unbound winter's icy chains with sweet showers, took to 
the road to go on pilgrimage. Pilgrimages were undertaken 
to fulfill vows; they were also holiday excursions offering folk 
the opportunity of seeing the 'countries* of the realm and ex- 
changing stories with strangers and hearing the latest news 
and enjoying a respite from the daily routine. In one of Mar- 
garet Paston's first extant letters to her husband, she informed 
him what she and Agnes had done to try to cure him of an 
illness he had suffered in London: 'My mother [-in-law] be- 
hested another image of wax of the weight of you to Our Lady 
of Walsingham and she sent four nobles to the four Orders of 
Friars at Norwich to pray for you, and I have behested to go 
on pilgrimages to Walsingham and to St Leonard's [Norwich] 
for you.' On a June day in 1470 young John Paston casually 
mentioned to his brother Sir John, I propose to go to Canter- 
bury on foot this next week, with God's grace'; perhaps he 
was honouring a vow he had made when Caister Castle was 
beseiged the previous summer. Even the Duke and Duchess 
of Norfolk walked barefoot to Our Lady of Walsingham. 

From every shire's end cavalcades of pilgrims jogged 
through the May weather to shrines all over England. An as- 
tonishing number, from all ranks, managed the long, hard 
journey to the Holy Land. The most popular pilgrimage be- 
yond the shores of England was to the shrine of St James of 
Compostella in Spain. In early spring shipowners of Bristol 
and the southern ports busied themselves to secure licences 
from the King to transport pilgrims by the hundreds. On these 
profitable voyages the ship's hold was rudely partitioned off 
into 'cells' or turned into one gigantic dormitory, where pil- 
grims, who supplied their own bedding, lay in closely packed 


rows, their feet extended towards a central aisle. Those with 
dainty stomachs brought fresh food with them; cackling of 
geese and squawking of chickens mingled with the groans of 
the seasick. In stormy weather grinning sailors brought round 
bowls so that their troublesome cargo would not foul the ship. 
The miseries of the voyage and the heartlessness of the mari- 
ners were celebrated in many a song: 

Men may leave all games 

That sail to Saint James! 

For many a man it gramys [grieves] 

When they begin to sail. 
For when they have taken the sea 
At Sandwich or at Winchelsea, 
At Bristol or where that it be, 

Their hearts begin to fail. . . . 

A boy or twain anon climb high 
And overthwart the sail-yard lie 
*Y how! taylia!' the remnant cry 

And pull with all their might 
'Bestow the boat, Boatswain, anon, 
That our pilgrims may play thereon; 
For some are like to cough and groan 

Ere it be full midnight. , . .' 

. . . This meanwhile the pilgrims lie 
And have their bowls fast them by 
And cry after hot malmsey, 
Thou help for to restore'. 

And some would have a salted toast, 

For they might eat neither boiled nor roast; 

A man might soon pay for their cost, 

As for one day or twain! 
Some laid their books on their knee 
And read so long they might not see 
*Alas, mine head will cleave in three!' 

Thus saith another certain. 


Then cometh our owner like a lord 
And speaketh many a royal word 
And dresseth him to the high board 

To see all thing be well. 
Anon he calleth a carpenter 
He biddeth him bring with him his gear, 
To make the cabins here and there, 

With many a feeble cell. 

A sack of straw were there right good, 
For some must lie them in their hood; 
I had as lief be in the wood 

Without meat or drink; 
For when that we shall go to bed, 
The pump was nigh our bed's head 
A man were as good to be dead 

As smell thereof the stink! 

Sanctuaries continued to offer a haven for criminals and 
debtors and victims of injustice and political refugees. As War- 
wick the Kingmaker approached London in October of 1470, 
King Edward having fled to the Low Countries, die-hard Lan- 
castrians and Neville supporters emerged from sanctuaries as 
numerous Yorkists, including some bishops of the royal Counr 
cil, hurriedly entered them. Edward's Queen abandoned the 
rooms in the Tower which she had had specially decorated 
for her confinement and betook herself to Westminster Abbey, 
giving birth there the following month to her first son, later 
Edward V. Though the privilege of sanctuary was common 
to Christendom, it was apparently nowhere so widely practiced 
and so formalized as in England; for almost all foreign visi- 
tors commented upon the system. Every church was, in a 
measure, a sanctuary; by long custom certain ones were re- 
garded as particularly privileged; but the only really secure 
havens were those possessing a papal bull and a royal charter. 

A criminal, hotly pursued, headed for the nearest sanctuary, 
pounded up the nave and threw himself upon the altar. If he 
had more time, he rang the bell at the 'sanctuary door 5 , 
claimed his privilege and was admitted to the precincts. In 
theory, he was then safe for forty days, though men sometimes 


spent much longer than that in sanctuary. If, on the other 
hand, officers of the law or his enemies closely besieged the 
place so that the felon could not escape, he had the option of 
sending for the chief magistrate of the town and confessing 
his crime, after which he took an oath to leave the realm. He 
then emerged from sanctuary clad in shirt and breeches only 
and holding a candle. Escorted by a constable to see that he 
kept to his route, he made his way to a designated port If no 
ship was about to sail, he was required every day to walk into 
the water up to his knees, or sometimes to his neck, crying, 
Tassage, for the love of God and King Edward's sake!' until 
a vessel took him over the sea. To the Venetian diplomat this 
custom seemed as picturesque as it does to later ages, and he 
wrote a lengthy account of it for his government. Though 
there were strict injunctions against molesting a "king's felon', 
all such criminals did not succeed in finishing their journey. 
A widow dwelling outside Aldgate "had long time cherished 
and brought up (out of charity) a certain Breton born, which 
most unkindly and cruelly in a night murdered the said widow 
sleeping in her bed, and after fied with such jewels and other 
stuff of hers as he might carry: but he was so freshly pursued 
that for fear he took the church of St George in Southwark 
and challenged privilege of sanctuary there, and so abjured 
the king's land. Then the constables brought him into London, 
intending to have conveyed htm eastward; but so soon as he 
was come into the parish where before he had committed the 
murder, the wives cast upon him so much filth and ordure of 
the street that they slew him out of hand. . . .' 

Sir Roger Clifford was condemned, as an abettor of Buck- 
ingham's abortive revolt of 1483, to be drawn from West- 
minster to Tower Hill and there beheaded. As he was dragged, 
bound to a *hurdle*, past London's most famous sanctuary, 
the church of St Martin le Grand near the top of Cheapside, 
his confessor managed to cut bis cords; and in a trice Sir 
Roger was running desperately for the gate which meant life. 
As he almost reached it, he was tripped up, seized by royal 
officers, and rebound to his hurdle, in what agony of mind can 
be imagined. The Church clung as tightly to its right of sanc- 
tuary as to its other privileges. After Sir William OldhaU, out- 


lawed in 1452 for supporting the Duke of York, took refuge 
in St. Martin le Grand, a band of Lancastrian lords came one 
night and removed him *with great violence*. But the Dean of 
St Martin's, bundling up his charters, hastened to complain 
to the King; and in the teeth of the royal favourites he was 
able to procure the return of Sir William to the sanctuary. 

The visible embodiments no less than the powers of the Eng- 
lish Church struck the minds of visitors. Though they came 
fresh from viewing the grandest religious monuments of the 
Continent, they expressed amazement at the number and 
beauty of the churches, the repertory of relics, the opulence 
of England's renowned shrines. The Bohemian lords thought 
the churches of London surpassed any they had ever seen, 
and these churches possessed so rich an array of relics that it 
would take two scribes at least a fortnight to describe them. 
'Never in any country,' declared one of the travellers, 'have 
I seen more beautiful churches and monasteries than in Eng- 
land. For they are all covered on top with lead and tin and 
within they are adorned in a truly wonderful fashion.' Spend- 
ing Easter in Salisbury, the Bohemians noted that on Maundy 
Thursday and Good Friday the congregation dined in the ca- 
thedral 'in memory of the Last Supper, and mirrors are set up 
on the altar 9 . But nothing of course could equal the glories of 
the shrine of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral, which 'is 
so rarely embellished with pearls and precious stones that no 
more splendid tomb can be found in Christendom, nor one 
where greater miracles occur*. The relics, too, were exciting: 
a tooth of John the Baptist, a finger of St Urban, a lip of one 
of the Murdered Innocents, and three thorns from the crown 
of Christ When Erasmus 'did* St Thomas's shrine, he was 
shown jewels 'larger than the egg of a goose', the prior touch- 
ing every gem with a white wand as he told its name, value, 
and donor. Touring the ecclesiastical sights of London with 
a fellow Silesian, the German knight Popplau saw among 
other wonders 'some jars out of Cana in Galilee*. 

Surviving churches only hint at the stained-glass windows 
bright with saints, the Last Judgement flaming on the walls, 
altars shining with silken banners and service of silver and 
gold. But even the ruins of the great monastic establishments 


of the North and West eloquently suggest their former gran- 
deur. Poor betrayed Robert Aske 1 said wistfully in the hard 
days of their dissolution that the abbeys Vas one of the beau- 
ties of this realm to all men passing through the same*. The 
Venetian diplomat, after reporting that 'there is not a parish 
church in the kingdom so mean as not to possess crucifixes, 
candlesticks, censers, patens, and cups of silver 9 , continued, 
*Your Magnificence may therefore imagine what the decora- 
tions of those enormously rich Benedictine, Carthusian, and 
Cistercian monasteries must be. These are, indeed, more like 
baronial palaces than religious houses. . . . And I have been 
informed that amongst other things many of these monasteries 
possess unicorns' horns of an extraordinary size*. The Vene- 
tian quoted the English proverb about the abbeys of Glaston- 
bury and Shaftesbury, 'that the finest match that could be 
made in all England would be between that abbot and ab- 
bess' though, in fact, the Abbot of Westminster and the Ab- 
bess of Sion would have outdone them. 

It appeared to the Venetian, and to others, that the clergy 
of England represented the most powerful and wealthiest force 
in the realm, 'nor is the saying that is so common in this coun- 
try without cause "that the priests are one of the three happy 
generations of the world" *. A papal agent named Aliprando, 
who was unceremoniously arrested at Calais and made an 
undignified escape clinging to the back of a horse, blamed his 
experience on *these old prelates, abbots or other fat priests 
who rule [the king's] council'. But the Venetian and Ali- 
prando were wrong. It was the world which had won the 
Church. From the bishops and abbots who sat in the King's 
council or occupied a place among the Lords of Parliament, 
to the parish clergy and the family chaplain, churchmen served 
secular interests at the command of their lay patrons; and the 
whole complex institution of the Church had become so im- 
pregnated with worldly preoccupations that if these should be 
brought under sharp attack, the edifice had no other prop to 
keep it from tumbling to the ground. 

Mitred abbots lived in a style befitting their rank as peers 

* Leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a northern rising against Henry 
VHTs Reformation. 


of the realm. The kitchen of the Abbot of Glastonbury still 
hints at the lordly splendour of the appointments when he 
entertained distinguished visitors at dinner. On occasions of 
state the Abbot of St Albans dined on a platform raised 
fifteen steps above the rest of the hall, and the monks who 
served him performed a hymn at every fifth step. Operators 
of great estates and massive establishments, abbots defended 
their temporalities with worldly zeal. The Abbot of Glaston- 
bury wrote to Lord Wenlock's widow, 'Madame, I am in- 
formed that ye propose to trouble me in the law. . . . Mad- 
ame, if ye will trouble with me, I promise you I shall open 
such things that shall turn you to as much trouble as I shall 
have by you, I doubt me thereof right naught And I trust to 
God the best man of law in England will be on my side 
and right stiff against you. Madame, in such doing is none 
avail, neither to you nor to me. Wherefore, if it please you 
to be in peace, I will thank you thereof. If ye will needs go 
to plea, I trust to God. Answer you.* 

Sometimes the worldliness of abbots took an even more 
pronounced form. In 1480 Dan William Brekenok, Inspector 
General of the Cluniac monasteries in England, upon paying 
a visit to the Abbey of Bermondsey discovered 'great ruin 
and decay, as well of the said monastery as of religion 
within the same'. When Abbot John Marlowe contumaciously 
refused to answer to the charges against him, the Inspector 
clad "Himself in a retinue of learned dignitaries and 'descended 
again to the said monastery of Bermondsey*. Abbot Marlowe 
was waiting for him., backed by a doctor of laws and a multi- 
tude of lay people, who laid hands on the Inspector and 
'pulled him from his doctors, notaries, and other his learned 
counsel and had hfm to secret prison* from where he some- 
how managed to appeal to the secular law, declaring that his 
gaolers meant to murder him, *or otherwise mischief him 
contrary to the law and all good conscience*. 

The prelates who went on diplomatic missions for Ed- 
ward IV and sat hi his Council and held great offices did 
not represent an ecclesiastical domination of the realm. They 
did not occupy high place because they were bishops and 
deans; they had become bishops and deans because they 


served the King well and he had thus cheaply and effectively 
rewarded them. For numerous lesser officers, like the clerks 
of the Wardrobe, special livings were set aside as their pre- 
serve. Ambitious boys found their way to the universities 
and entered the Church to make a career for themselves; 
and Edward IV chose these learned, able, vigorous men- 
like Thomas Rotherham and John Russell and John Morton, 
all of whom rose to be Chancellor to advise him and to 
carry out his policies. Such prelates often held several bene- 
fices and, busy at Westminster, saw little of their bishoprics. 

An English Church with a royal Supreme Head did not 
come into being in the reign of Henry VIII. During the York- 
ist Age there was an English Church, as there had been for 
centuries, and the Supreme Head of it, though not so officially 
titled, was King Edward IV. He refused to admit papal bulls 
and papal agents into his realm when he pleased; he nomi- 
nated bishops and deans and presented to benefices, and 
through his civil servants, who were also the chief officers 
of the Church, he kept Convocation completely under his 
thumb and squeezed great sums of money from it. The Pope 
continued to collect First Fruits and other perquisites, to 
provide to a limited number of benefices, to confirm the selec- 
tion of bishops and abbots, and to be acknowledged in Eng- 
land as the Head of Christendom; but the Holy Father him- 
self had no doubts about who was master of the ecclesiastical 
establishment: Martin V declared acidly, 'It is not the Pope 
but the King of England that governs the Church in his do- 

Like bishops and deans, the parish priests the clergy closest 
to the average man were often engrossed in the world. 
They were likely to be poor, in a society growing more 
prosperous, and ignorant or rudely lettered before parishion- 
ers whose standards of education were rising. Benefices held 
by royal officers and pluralistic prelates were farmed out to 
vicars for a miserable wage. To make ends meet, monasteries 
and nunneries had been permitted to 'appropriate* churches, 
that is, to pocket the proceeds of the living and hire curates 
for a small stipend to carry out the duties. Furthermore, 
priests were increasingly drawn from the humbler ranks. Dur- 


ing the Yorkist Age far fewer of them had independent 
means than in preceding centuries. The average living now 
paid about 8 to 9 a year. Consequently peasant-priests 
and starveling curates spent a great deal of time farming their 
glebe land, usually forty to sixty acres, and trying to market 
their produce. Many country parsons with a flair for agri- 
culture leased additional lands to improve their incomes. 
Barely maintaining the services of the Church, some of them 
hardly able to do more than gabble through a Paternoster, 
they differed little from the mass of their parishioners. 

The church edifice itself, invaded by the world, had be- 
come the centre of town and village lif e. Men talked law-suits 
or crop prices and women had neighbourly chats while Mass 
was being said; sometimes the nave became quiet only at 
the Elevation of the Host. The church served as a handy 
meeting-place, where enemies might confer on neutral 
ground, arbitrators decide a land quarrel, a young man with 
marriage in his mind arrange to meet a young girl and her 
family. At Sandwich, elections were held in one parish church 
and the council met in another; at Rye the municipal ac- 
counts were audited yearly in the church. Public announce- 
ments of all kinds were made during the service. Men were 
'warned* about the meeting of a manor court or a village 
gathering. At the outbreak of the Lincolnshire Rebellion in 
1470, Sir Robert Welles instructed the clergy to declare in 
all the churches of the shire that 'every man must be at Ranby 
Hawe on Tuesday in readiness to resist the King*. 

As Edward IV used bishoprics to reward his councillors, 
lords and gentry with benefices to bestow expected the recipi- 
ents to do them worldly services. When William Worcester 
complained to Sir John Fastolfe that he was unpaid, that 
hard-fisted old knight merely remarked that he was sorry 
Worcester was not a clerk so that he could present him 
with a benefice. Parsons and chaplains acted as land agents, 
stewards, counsellors. The Paston family, with more than 
twenty livings to bestow, worked their clergy hard. The Vicar 
of Paston, a member of the family council, kept an eye out 
for dissatisfaction among the tenantry and reported on men he 
thought disloyal. The Rector of Tltchwell, writing 'in all 


goodly haste for the matter is of substance', warned that 
this day in the grey morning three men of my Lord of Nor- 
folk with long spears carried off three good horses'. The 
Rector was eager to take action, 'for such an open wrong 
unremedied knew I never'. The Parson of Melton collected 
rents; the Vicar of Stalham took inventory of sheep and 
lands at Sparham. 

The family chaplain served as secretary, schoolmaster, and 
often as land agent too. Sir John Fastolfe's chaplain, Thomas 
Howes, was kept so husy serving writs and letting land that 
he could have had little time for saying Mass. James Gloys, 
the Paston chaplain from about 1448 until he died in 1473, 
completely identified himself with the worldly interests of 
his patrons. He owned a goodly collection of books; he un- 
derstood all the Paston business; and when trouble broke he 
could be counted on to act boldly. 

Not long after he joined the Pastons he had made himself 
so unpopular in their service that in the village of Oxnead, 
a Paston manor, he was attacked in the street by two men and 
'driven into my mother's place for refuge'. That afternoon 
he was assaulted again and so many threats were uttered 
against him that Margaret Paston sent him up to London to 
her husband to get him out of harm's way. His letters to his 
master show him leasing lands, distraining for rent, threat- 
ening recalcitrant tenants, defying Paston enemies. To arrest 
a man named Bettes, he trailed him to a manor court being 
held by a certain Connor. But Gonnor spoke so fiercely, 
Gloys reported to John Paston, that the bailiff of the Hun- 
dred 'durst not arrest the said Bettes. Then I took it upon 
me and arrested him myself as he sat by Gonnor'. Gonnor 
*set all the tenants upon me and made a great noise'. Though 
his prisoner was taken from him and he was threatened with 
being bound like a criminal, Gloys coolly rode away, telling 
Gonnor 'if that he abode in Norfolk he should be made to 
seek the skirts of his saddle ere Easter. 

'And if he had kept his way that night, I should have kept 
him true covenant; for I lay await upon him on the heath 
as he should have come homeward, and if I might have met 
with him I should have had Bettes from him. But he had laid 


such watch that he had aspied us ere he came fully at us; 
and he remembered . . . that four swift feet were better 
than two hands, and he took his horse with the spurs and 
rode to Felbrygge Hall as fast as he might ride.' Lying there 
in ambush, his eyeballs shining in the twilight, James Gloys 
was clearly a formidable man, if not a formidable man of 
God. When the Duke of Suffolk threatened the manor of 
Drayton, Margaret Paston informed her husband that she 
could send only 'Thomas Bonde and Sir James Gloys to 
hold the court in your name and to claim your title; for I 
could get none other body to keep the court . . . because I 
suppose they were afraid of the people that should be there of 
the Duke of Suffolk's party'. When Bonde and Gloys arrived, 
they found some sixty of Suffolk's men there, *some of them 
having rusty pole-axes*. Though James Gloys 'had the words', 
it was Thomas Bonde the enemy preferred to lay hands on, 
trussing him up like a felon. 

Shortly after the death of John Paston, in 1466, the family 
gathered in London to concert measures for protecting the 
estate; but they soon realized that they must 'send a letter 
to Richard Calle and to Sir James Gloys to come up to Lon- 
don hi any wise. For there is no man can do in divers matters 
that they can do. . . .* 

But now there came a change. Margaret Paston, bitterly 
resenting her eldest son's spendthrift ways, came to depend 
more and more upon James Gloys, much to the disgust of 
Sir John and young John. Very early Gloys had aroused 
jealousy by his capacity to insinuate himself into the good 
graces of the ladies of the family, even winning the favour 
of John Paston's fearsome mother, Agnes. *But and we 
among us give not him a lift,' one of the Paston men wrote 
angrily, 'I pray God that we never thrive/ 

Four years after the death of John Paston, young John 
was informing his brother that there was no money to be 
got out of their mother, for 'she and her curate [Gloys] 
allege more poverty than ever was'. Two years later (1472) 
he was referring to Sir James as *the proud, peevish, and 
ill-disposed priest to us all. ... Many quarrels are picked to 
get my brother E[dmund] and me out of her house; we go 


not to bed unchidden lightly, all that we do is ill done, and 
all that Sir James and Pekok [a steward] doth is well done. 
Sir James and I be twain [at odds]. We fell out before my 
mother with 6 Thou proud priest and thou proud squire, my 
mother taking his part. . . .' A few months later, young 
John continued the tale: 'Sir James is ever chopping at me 
when my mother is present, with such words as he thinks 
"wrath" me and also cause my mother to be displeased with 
me ... and when he hath most unfitting words to me, I smile 
a little and tell him it is good hearing of these old tales. Sir 
James is parson of Stokesby by J. Berney's gift. I trow he 
beareth him the higher.' When Sir John learned of Gloys' 
death the following year, he had only this to say: 'I am right 
glad that [my mother] will now do somewhat by your ad- 
vice; wherefore beware from henceforth that no such fellow 
creep hi between her and you. . . .' Gloys had been many 
things to the Pastons; chaplain seems to have been the least 
of them. 

In espousing the interests of their patrons, parsons and 
chaplains incurred the ill will of parishioners and manor 
tenants who looked upon such clerks as hard-fisted bailiffs 
rather than ministers of the faith. As a result of obeying the 
orders of Agnes Paston, the Vicar of Paston, as he began to 
say Mass one morning, was suddenly set upon by officers 
of the sheriff, heartily abetted by some of his flock. In terror 
he 'sold away 20s worth of stuff; and the residue of my stuff, 
I have put it in sure hands'. Taking refuge in Bromhom Pri- 
ory, he wrote hastily to his mistress, "The great fray that they 
made in the time of mass, it ravished my wits and made 
me full heavily disposed. ... It is told me that if I be taken, 
I may no other remedy have but straight to prison.' 

Letters, proceedings in Chancery, and the testimony of 
ecclesiastics themselves reveal numerous cases of parish 
clergy unpleasantly at odds with their parishioners. Parsons 
complained of being cheated by their flock or threatened or 
assaulted. According to William Russell, Vicar of Mere, a 
member of his parish loosed a dog on him which bore him 
to the ground and bit his arm in three places. He only saved 
himself from death, he declared, because 'he smote the said 


dog with the church door-key under his ear and with that the 
said dog departed'. Enraged parishioners dragged a parson 
from his church, 'set him openly and shamefully in the stocks', 
and then cast him into prison. Quarrels frequently arose 
over the exaction of excessive 'mortuaries'. When certain 
members of the parish of Roseland, near Falmouth, refused 
to pay these death fees, the priest procured their excommuni- 
cation. In retaliation, a band of men made such an uproar in 
the church the Sunday before Christmas that 'the parish- 
ioners went home without Mass*. On Christmas day the men 
reappeared, armed, threatened to kill the priest, and *would 
have chased [him] out of his chancel by the windows . . . 
wherefore the said parson was very glad to escape secretly 
while others of the parish treated with them*. 

On the other hand, priests were sued for forgery, theft, 
breach of trust, and accused of a rogue's gallery of crimes 
ranging from adultery to murder. The Parson of Snoring 
incited an armed band to drag a man from his house and 
slay him. Sir John Fastolfe testily inveighed against a parson 
who 'fished my stanks at Dedham and helped to break my 
dam and destroyed my new mill'. An outraged father com- 
plained to the Chancellor that William Roddok, priest, *a 
limb of the Devil', had seduced his daughter. John Mallery, 
Vicar of Lewesham, 'spoke with a loud voice* in the pulpit, 
urging his flock to band together and capture and kill the 
sheriff or any other officer who tried to serve a royal writ. On 
the following Tuesday when a long's bailiff rode into town, 
Mallery 'rang the great bell' and something like a hundred 
persons 'with swords, clubs, bows and arrows' swarmed upon 
the bailiff. 

Thomas Stonor received a petition from *your poor bead- 
men and tenants of your lordship of Didcot, which be greatly 
wronged and ungoodly treated by the parson of Didcof. 
The parish had kindly given htm permission to go to school 
to Oxenf ord' on his promising that he would find a substitute 
to perform his offices. But once the parson rode off to Oxford, 
the divine service and other sacraments were not kept as 
they ought to be, to great unease to the parish'. In the buy- 
ing and selling of their grain, the parson cheated them or 


maliciously interfered with their dealings; he was always quar- 
relling with them and harrying them, 'to great heaviness of the 
parish, the parson to be so unkind'. The parson's man, Rob- 
ert Dobson, 'called divers men, knaves and harlots and churls 
. . . and the said parson maintained him therein. They 
were so bold that twain of the parson's men lay await upon 
John Pepwite in Bagley; and there they beat him, and, ex- 
cept [for] people of Abingdon, likely to have killed him. This 
man recovered and came home. And upon a Sunday after 
Evensong the mother of this same man and the man also 
made an outcry upon the parson among all the parish . . . 
which were heavy to hear of, if it should be written.' 

An oration prepared for a Convocation of the clergy 2 
paints more vigorously than any lay source the widespread 
hostility which encompassed churchmen. Pleading that his 
fellows should 'make ourselves good shepherds, not mercenary 
ones', lamenting that 'the clerical body should be divided by 
discords within itself, the author warns that clergy and laity 
'are two armies unequal in worldly power, and one will de- 
stroy the other' unless harmony is restored. The vices and 
the quarrels of churchmen 'provoke the laity of our time 
to attempt . . . unbridled enormities against the Church. 
Fearing no censure, they even indict clergymen for fictitious 
crimes; drag them to examinations; throw them into squalid 
prisons to make them empty their barns, while some are 
even fixed in pillories or fastened to the gibbet. . . . 

There are scarcely ten in any diocese who do not yearly 
suffer either in their person or their purse. Hence parsons 
do not reside on their benefices; yet . . . they are publicly 
inveighed against for their absence. All the regard and de- 
votion of the faithful to the priests have become chilled; and 
tithes, oblations, and other benefits to the churches fall to 
nothing.* The orator is more concerned to hide abuses from 
the laity than to reform them: *I wish that all preachers who 
would suggest anything ... to prelates or ecclesiastical 
persons for their emendation would choose a place apart to 
announce the crimes of their pastors, where the horned cattle 

2 This Convocation, which was to have met in mid-April, 1483, was 
cancelled because of the death of Edward IV on April 9. 


will not be present with us; where they who erect their horns 
to strike the pastors of their churches and to disperse their 
flocks may not learn from us what is objectionable in us. 9 

The greatest embarrassment to the Church was the floating 
population of clerks in Minor Orders and unbeneficed priests. 
This underworld of the establishment, often ragged and quick- 
fingered and lewd, swelled the proletariat of the towns and 
trouped about the countryside only too ready for mischief. 
Such 'criminous clerks' might be seen sitting hi the stocks 
pelted by a jeering crowd or being booted out of town *with 
minstrelsey'. Their amorous exploits formed the stock-in-trade 
of much popular poetry; they spread rumours and haunted 
taverns and gulled the credulous. 

The world had also invaded religious establishments set 
apart from the world, the monasteries. Monks and nuns 
had long ago resigned spiritual leadership to the friars; 
but by the fifteenth century the friars too had lost much of 
their good fame and their zeal. They still maintained a repu- 
tation for learning and for delivering catchy sermons- spiced 
with fables; but the Four Orders had grown increasingly 
wealthy and lethargic, and they were more celebrated for 
their magnificent halls like those at Blackfriars and at the 
Grey Friars in London than for lives dedicated to St. Fran- 
cis's ideal of poverty. The educated laity were beginning to 
scorn then* jigging sermons and easy penances and begging 
tricks. When the Yorkists became alarmed early in 1454 
by reports that the Duke of Somerset was sowing spies in their 
households, it was believed, typically, that many of these 
agents were disguised as friars. By the reign of Edward IV, 
their diminishing numbers were having to be bolstered by 
recruits from the Continent. 

The regular clergy, monks and nuns, showed an even sad- 
der decline from the ages when their establishments had 
stood as fortresses of Christian devotion, even of civilization, 
in a brutalized world. Now life outside monastic walls had 
grown rich in opportunities for living, while the life within 
had shrunk into a meagre routine of existence. During the 
Yorkist Age there were something like 600 religious houses, 


three-quarters of them being monasteries. Most of them were 
quite small, averaging about fifteen inmates; many had even 
fewer and numbers were everywhere declining. Travellers 
who extolled the magnificence of the monastic life in Eng- 
land were remembering only the few great abbeys, and they 
did not closely examine what went on within. By the end of 
Edward TV's reign religious houses probably counted no 
more than 2,000 nuns and about 7,000 monks. 

These houses were frequently not only small but miserably 
poor. The Premonstratensian monastery of Begham, Kent, 
contained only eight canons in 1478; the number had dropped 
to six by 1497. Buildings were sagging into ruin; the monas- 
tery owed hundreds of pounds; one run-away canon had been 
wandering in the world for at least three years. The Premon- 
stratensians at Maiden, Essex, had a community of only six 
hi 1482; there were eight at Blanchland, Northumberland, 
and the place was so broken down as to be hardly habitable. 
Nunneries, particularly those in the North, exhibited the 
same conditions. In some places it was almost impossible 
to carry on divine services; bishops were constantly urging 
abbots and prioresses to recruit novices. 

Debt and dilapidation were not entirely the fault of the 
monks and nuns. Their revenues were heavily taxed both 
by Church and State; over-generous hospitality depleted 
funds; feudal incidents and the perquisites of patrons took 
their toll; income from land was falling; and though there 
were ever fewer monks and nuns, expenses mounted because 
more comforts had to be supplied. Still, there was a good 
deal of bad management and sometimes worse than bad 
management. Abbots and prioresses, lazy or fond of power, 
often failed to make the required yearly accounting to their 
brethren and sisters and badly muddled their finances. They 
failed to keep buildings in repair, disposed of lands and 
woods at a low figure in order to lay hands on ready money 
or to please a powerful neighbour, and recklessly sold 'cor- 
rodies'-life annuities of board and lodgingwhich If folk 
lived too long or ate too much cost the establishment dear. 

On occasion mismanagement turned out to be criminal 
negligence and fraud and embezzlement, usually coupled with 


even more picturesque vices. Lurid immoralities were never 
widespread, but there certainly existed unscrupulous abbots 
and wicked prioresses 8 who plundered the funds of the com- 
munity, sold lands and cut down woods and pawned sacred 
vessels for their own gain. Perhaps no more than twenty- 
five or fifty of the some 600 religious houses exhibited shock- 
ing evils during the Yorkist Age; but these became the scan- 
dal of their neighbourhoods, and the *shiten shepherd 9 , as 
Chaucer's parson knew, often soiled his monastic sheep. 

Conditions at Littlemore Priory, near Oxford, reveal how 
hard it was for nuns to resist the blandishments of gay 
University clerks. In the course of an episcopal visitation, 
nuns and prioress hurled violent accusations against each 
other. The nuns asserted that the Prioress had had a daugh- 
ter by Richard Hewes, priest, of Kent, who still visited her. 
She disposed of the 'pans, pots, candlesticks, basins, sheets, 
pillows, featherbeds, etc.' of the Priory to accumulate a 
dowry for this daughter. She commanded the nuns to say 
that all was well when a visitation occurred. Those who 
rebuked her evil life she thrust into the stocks. She had 
pawned almost all the jewels belonging to the house and pro- 
vided neither sufficient food nor clothing nor pocket-money 
for the convent. One of the nuns, it was charged, had had a 
child within the past year; and a girl about to become a 
novice was so appalled by the evil life of the prioress that 
she went elsewhere. 

When the erring Prioress was quizzed by the Bishop, she 
ended by admitting most of the charges. Though removed 
from office, she was permitted to carry on its duties for the 
time being a concession which reveals how few nuns in this 
age were capable of managing a convent, even badly. It is 
not surprising that when the Bishop visited the Priory a few 
months later, he uncovered fresh scandals. The Prioress now 
complained that one of the nuns "played and romped* with 
boys in the cloister and refused to be corrected. When she 
was put in the stocks, three nuns broke the door and rescued 

8 The most wicked of all was fortunately a creature of legend, the nun 
of Kirklees who betrayed Robin Hood to his death. But that a nun 
should be chosen for the role is significant 


her and burnt the stocks; and when the Prioress summoned 
aid from the neighbourhood, the four recalcitrants smashed 
a window and escaped to friends, 'where they remained two 
or three weeks'. Other nuns played and laughed during Mass, 
even at the Elevation. The Prioress, in turn, was charged 
with punishing the nuns because they had told the truth at 
the last visitation. The nun she had put in the stocks was 
blameless; another nun had been struck on the head; and 
Richard Hewes had paid a recent visit to the Priory. 

Prioress Margaret Wavere of Catesby provided endless gos- 
sip for the neighbourhood and kept her nunnery in a constant 
uproar. She let buildings fall into ruin, put the nuns on short 
rations, gave out no money for clothes. For her own benefit 
she sold woods, pawned part of the silver service, made away 
with spoons and table cloths 'fit for a king'; and forced her 
charges to perform manual labour unworthy of their delicate 
upbringing. She had a priestly lover, William Taylour, a fre- 
quent visitor at the nunnery, with whom she strolled boldly 
in the gardens of the village of Catesby. Often moved to vio- 
lent anger, even during divine service, she tore the veils from 
nuns, dragged them about the choir by their hair, screamed 
epithets like *beggar!' and 'harlot!' at them. The visiting 
Bishop required her to see no more of William Taylour, 
but she, like the Prioress of Littlemore, was permitted to 
continue as head of the nunnery. 

The worst offenders among abbots usually coupled violence 
to immorality. When Bishop Redman visited the Abbey of 
Welbeck in 1482, the canons reported 'great enormities and 
disgraceful things, the scandal of which is spread abroad'. 
The Abbot was letting the place fall to pieces; he had dis- 
posed of lands, woods, tithes of the monastery to 'great men'; 
he had pledged or pilfered all jewels and plate so that 'he did 
not have a single silver cup to set before us in our present 
visitation, nor one dish, napkin, silver salt cellar or any other 
vessel, to his great confusion'. Divine service often had to be 
diminished or omitted through an 'entire lack of oil, wax, and 
wine*. The fields around the Abbey presented a miserable 
spectacle woods reduced to an expanse of stumps, enclosures 
unditched and unhedged, barns empty of stock. 


As a result of his relations with a number of women, the 
Abbot had gathered to himself several children, *who had 
hitherto been supported out of monastery goods*. He spent 
his time playing 'at tables and other games the whole day 
and night with buffoons and other such persons'. This con- 
duct had infected two of the brothers, who were found guilty 
of incontinence, apostacy, and rebellion. Bishop Redman did 
what he could: the Abbot was relieved of his post and with 
the two sinning canons was sent in disgrace to the monastery 
of Barlings to do penance until the next visitation; mean- 
while, the house remained in abject poverty, 'and the brethren 
bewail their lot'. 

Conditions became so intolerable, early in 1461, in the 
Abbey of Beauchief, Derbyshire, that Canon John Swyft 
appealed for an investigation by means of a vividly al- 
legorical letter in which the monastery was pictured as 'cast 
down and inexterminably lying in the dungeon of inordinate 
sin, enormous misrule and wretchedness; and in the prison 
of unrecoverable subversion, ruin, destruction, importable 
poverty and indigence; and under unpiteous presumption, 
and full ungentle and cruel gaolers', who were guilty of 'all 
manner of extortions, usurpations, collusions, riots, and dev- 
astations'. Alarmed by this awesome intelligence, Bishop Red- 
man hastened to make an investigation, and the substance 
of the Canon's charges were borne out. The Abbot was con- 
victed of a variety of Notorious crimes', including incon- 
tinence and perjury; but he and seven of his accomplices 
fled before Bishop Redman arrived, and had to be excom- 
municated. Canon Swyft himself was elected Abbot, and a 
few years later the Abbey was found to be in a satisfactory 
state except that cloister silence was not always observed 
and the canons sometimes did a little tippling after Compline. 

Outwardly, the daily round of the monastic life was un- 
changed. Monks and nuns broke their sleep about two A.M. 
and trooped from the dorter into the choir to say Matins 
and Lauds. The service of Prime began at six in the morning 
in winter, an hour later in summer as with the rest of the 
services. Three hours later came Tierce-Sext, and then None 
at midday in winter. The religious were left free in the after- 


noon for individual devotions or labour. Vespers were said 
towards the end of the day, and the routine of services con- 
cluded with Compline, usually at seven P.M. hi winter. Monks 
and nuns were then supposed to retire immediately to the 
dorter and go to bed. In moving from service to service it 
was ordered by the Syon Rule that 'none shall jut upon other 
wilfully, nor spit upon the stairs going up or down, nor in 
none other place reprovably but if they tread it out forthwith'. 
During the services *none shall use to spit over the stalls nor 
in any other place where any sister is wont to pray ... for 
defouling of their clothes'. 

Except among the Carthusians with their proud motto of 
'Nothing reformed because nothing to reform' and the 
Bridgetine Nuns and the Observant Friars, the disciplines of 
the religious life had, by the reign of Edward IV, become 
much relaxed. St. Benedict's well-balanced trinity of duties 
divine service, labour, and cultivation of mind and spirit 
which had once kept monastic existence fresh and vigorous, 
no longer satisfied the average man and woman who entered 
into enclosure. 

Monks now constituted probably less than half of the popu- 
lation housed by a well-to-do abbey; and the proportion 
among nuns, except in the poorer convents, was not much 
greater. In the reign of Henry VIIE the thirty monks of St 
Peter's, Gloucester, were attended by eighty-six servants. 
Much earlier, Bicester Priory employed more than twenty- 
five people to look after the prior, eleven canons, a few clerks 
of the chapel and novices. Not only were religious houses 
staffed by cooks, butlers, bakers, brewers, and farm hands, 
but they frequently called upon the services of barbers, laun- 
dresses, tailors, carpenters. At Athelney in 1455 the visiting 
bishop ordered the monks to cease employing a tailor to fit 
their habits and a barber to cut their hair and shave them. 
The austerity of monastic diet had also vanished; the religious 
ate meat and enjoyed numerous 'pittances', special dainties. 

Monks and nuns had likewise ceased to follow the precious 
tradition of intellectual accomplishments. With the exception 
of the Croyland Chronicle, monastic chronicles almost en- 
tirely died out during the Yorkist Age; the regular clergy 


had lost interest in copying manuscripts or creating works of 
art or fostering learning. Even the primary function of 
monasticism, the praise of God, was neglected or scanted or 
became a desultory observance. Episcopal visitations reveal 
that monks and nuns not infrequently found it too difficult 
to rise in the middle of the night and raise their voices in an 
icy choir. At Peterborough, in 1487, only about a dozen of 
the forty-five monks ordinarily obeyed the schedule of divine 
services. At another monastery there were *but four who 
attend choir in time of divine service, while the others . . . 
spend their time in idleness'. Sometimes the Abbot of Ramsey 
found only eight monks out of thirty present for Matins; 
and on occasion, but two or three appeared for High Mass. 
Even those who managed to attend were not blameless: they 
dozed or gossiped or slipped away when they thought no- 
body was looking. At St. Neots, the monks relieved the 
tedium of then: existence by chatting 'with secular folk as 
though they were at market'. The commonest fault was gab- 
bling through the service to get it over with, leaving out 
syllables and skipping pauses and thus making nonsense of 
plain chant. Satan found this lapse so widespread and so 
fruitful that he detailed a special devil, Tutivillus, to collect 
in a long bag hung about his neck all the omitted words and 
tortured phrasings dropped by the negligent, and his master 
expected him to fill no less than a thousand bags a day. 

Monastic life had fallen into the doldrums simply because 
the flame had gone out of it 4 except for the few monks and 
nuns with a genuine religious vocation. 

Into monasteries drifted the lethargic, the miserable, the 
confused, happy to exchange the vigorous give-and-take of 
secular life for a routine existence padded by comforts and 
not very demanding. Nunneries were even more worldly than 
monasteries, because by the Yorkist Age they had become 

*'In 1514 . . . when Bishop Foxe of Winchester founded Corpus 
Christ! College, Oxford, he at first intended a house for monks; but las 
friend Bishop Oldham of Exeter expostulated "What, my lord, shall we 
build houses and provide livelihood for a company of bussing monks, 
whose end and fall we may live to see? No. No, it is more meet a great 
deal that we should have care to provide for the increase of learning, 
and for such as who by their learning shall do good in the Church and 
commonwealth'*.' A. R. Myers, England in the Late Middle Ages, p. 223. 


aristocratic boarding houses. Girls of the peasant and artisan 
class did not enter convents as a rule; they could not furnish 
the requisite dowry. To demand such a fee of a prospective 
novice was of course forbidden, but the practice was firmly 
and universally observed. The daughter of a lord or a knight 
or a wealthy merchant either married or entered a nunnery; 
there was no other career open to her. London merchants 
paid as high as -100 to place a daughter in a suitable re- 
ligious establishment. Girls of small means could enter these 
genteel portals only if they were fortunate enough to live 
in a community where a philanthropist or a religious fra- 
ternity, like the Gild of Palmers at Ludlow, made money 
available for the purpose. Fathers in the upper ranks of 
society frequently left sums to daughters with the designa- 
tion that the bequest was to be used as a religious or a mar- 
riage dowry. A man with an expensive son and half a dozen 
girls soon began turning convents over in his mind; for though, 
in addition to a goodly amount in cash, a novice was expected 
to bring with her a bed and other furnishings, the cost of 
placing a daughter in a convent was somewhat less than 
that of finding her a suitable husband. Nunneries likewise 
offered a quilted existence to well-to-do widows who had no 
desire to marry again and were weary of worldly cares; and 
they also served, unfortunately, as a dumping-ground for re- 
tarded or feeble-minded or deformed girls of aristocratic 

Since the great civilizing and spiritual mission of monas- 
ticism had withered away and since religious houses now 
sheltered many men and women without true vocation, it is 
not surprising that monks and nuns led humdrum lives and 
that they slipped into worldly ways in order to lighten the 
tedium of their hours. Such is the picture drawn by the record 
of episcopal visitations. 

Arriving with his retinue of doctors and secretaries and 
servants, the Bishop sometimes preached a sermon to begin 
the visitation. Then he gathered the religious community into 
the chapter house in order to explain the purpose and nature 
of his inspection, of which the establishment had been in- 
formed in advance. These preliminaries accomplished, he 


called before him one by one the whole community., beginning 
with the abbot or prioress and descending in order of rank 
and seniority. Sometimes everybody said that all was well 
and the Bishop, if he agreed, ordered an omnia bene to be 
inscribed on the record; but on many occasions the Bishop's 
secretary was kept busy writing down the accusations brought 
by the head against the members and the complaints of 
the community against the head. At the end of the inquiry, 
the Bishop investigated all serious charges and summed up 
his findings in an address to the monastery. On returning 
to his episcopal palace, he entered a record of the visitation 
in his register and sent a copy of it to the respective house. 

The Bishop's ears were often assailed by the usual symp- 
toms of petty living back-biting and malicious gossip, per- 
sonal jealousies, an enormous concern for comforts and 
privileges, and all the minor infringements of religious discir 
pline that boredom could devise. A sacristan, reported to be 
a violent fellow, had made a 'doublet of [de]fence* out of 
church vestments. A monk of Ulverscroft Priory found his 
metier in rambling 'about in the woods and copses . . . 
looking for the nests of wood-birds and catching other crea- 
tures of the wood*. An abbot's chaplain, 'having cast off his 
regular habit, dressed in a tunic with a cap on his head* and 
went fowling at night. The records buzz with complaints 
against tippling and overhearty eating. At Peterborough, 
'after Compline the young monks come down from the dorter 
and so do set to drinking, sometimes with the abbot . . . and 
are rendered altogether unfit for being present at Matins*. 
Some monks at Ramsey 'say that they are ailing and can- 
not attend choir; and yet they are good eaters and drinkers'. 
Gay dress was likewise a fruitful subject of complaint: at 
Kirkby Bellars the 'canons do wear clasps in their boots 
. . . and now of late the young canons do carry purses 
adorned with orphreys and silk, that hang down from their 
belts to their knees. . . .* 

The passages of the Croyland Chronicle dealing with 
abbey history sketch the placid but stagnant back-water of 
religious enclosure in this age. The writer is much con- 
cerned with the material comforts and splendours of his 


house: 'We deem Stephen Swynshed worthy of remembrance, 
who presented to the vestiary a choice cope with a similar 
alb ... equal in value to a sum of twenty pounds and 
more. . . .' Brother Thomas Leverton, we learn, bequeathed 
an annual income of 4s so that 'there might be faithfully 
supplied, in the lower hall only, a cheese in summer for the 
supper of the convent, and another in winter. . . / At the 
same time the writer froths with indignation at the men of 
surrounding villages, 'our powerful neighbours, not to call 
them enemies' who encroach on lands claimed by the abbey; 
and he cries upon the Lord to protect his house against the 
ever hostile, ever malicious commonalty' who 'just like so 
many ravening dogs . . . perpetrated many enormities, in 
fishing, fowling, and plundering the nets. . . .' 

Nuns were apparently worse than monks in drumming 
their tattle into the Bishop's weary ear. They accused the 
prioress of treating them harshly and not giving them enough 
to eat and cutting off the clothing allowance so that they went 
about in threadbare garments. They disclosed that she 'dresses 
more like a secular person than a nun', that she *wears golden 
rings exceedingly costly and carries her veil too high above 
her forehead*; that she has cut down woods and sold cor- 
rodies and pawned jewels without telling them. Sometimes 
they whispered that she entertained men in her private cham- 
bers and gambled with them *at tables'. The prioress, in turn, 
had already informed the Bishop that the nuns squabbled 
among themselves and told malicious tales and contuma- 
ciously refused to be corrected. They insisted on keeping 
monkeys and squirrels and birds and dogs which dirtied 
the house and sometimes made a mockery of divine worship. 
They were forever breaking the rule of silence. Instead of 
going to bed after Compline, they sometimes wandered in 
the garden and gossiped and played games and occasionally 
even danced to a harp. They were so difficult to deal with that 
the prioress certainly should be excused for failing to tell 
them all about the finances, which they were too addlepated 
to understand anyway. 

Worse still, monks and nuns would not stay where they 
belonged, in the cloister. Enclosure was the essence of the 


religious life, but in the Yorkist Age it was impossible to 
enforce. Monks would go hunting and poaching and stroll 
into the village for a drink at the tavern or to watch a 
wrestling match on the green. Chaucer and Langland spoke 
for the fifteenth century as well as their own times in their 
comments upon monastic worldliness. Chaucer's monk, it will 
be remembered, 'gave not of that text a pulled hen. That 
saith that hunters be not holy men' and that condemned *a 
monk out of his cloister . . .' 

Full many a dainty horse had he in stable: 
And when he rode, men might his bridle hear 
Gingling in a whistling wind as clear 
And eke as loud as doth the chapel-bell 
Where this lord was keeper of the cell. . . . 

and where he should have been upon his knees in prayer 
instead of enjoying the spring breezes in a furred gown. 
Langland knew the monk as 6 a roamer by streets' and the 
monk's prior as e a pricker [rider] on a palfrey from manor 
to manor. An heap of hounds at his arse as [if] he a lord 

Records of visitations in the fifteenth century bear out 
Chaucer's and Langland's picture. The Abbot of Humber- 
stone, it was said, would not take the trouble to visit sick 
monks in the infirmary but e he visits the girls of whom he is 
fond in the town'. At Newnham Priory the inmates kept so 
many hunting hounds that in order to feed them 'the alms of 
the house are very greatly wasted' and the dogs 'also snatch 
food from the canons' tables'. Two monks at Dunstable de- 
voted themselves to their thirty-nine hives of bees, the profits 
of which they have retained entirely for their own use*. On 
occasion monks and nuns sallied forth to visit each other's 
houses, though the practice was strictly prohibited. 

Nuns, it appears, enjoyed breaking the rule of enclosure 
as much as monks. Chaucer's Prioress, the charming and 
well-bred Madame Eglentyne, should not have been on pil- 
grimage at all. Considering the gamey company among 
whom she rode, it is not hard to see why the Church wanted 
no pilgrim-nuns. Not many fifteenth-century convent inmates, 


however, were so giddy as the erring sister 'who on Monday 
night did pass the night with the Austin Friars at Northampton 
and did dance and play the lute with them iri the same place 
until midnight, and on the night following she passed the 
night with the Friars Preachers at Northampton, luting and 
dancing hi like manner'. But though nuns listened demurely 
as the Bishop lectured them on the evils of breaking enclosure, 
they had no intention of immuring themselves in the convent; 
and they were able to think up a galaxy of excuses for going 
out their parents were ill or one of the family was getting 
married or they had to go to market or they must make con- 
fession at a neighbouring monastery. . . . The nuns at East- 
bourne complained that their extravagant and worldly prioress 
had put the convent hi debt some .40 because she 'frequently 
rides abroad and pretends that she does so on the common 
business of the house, although it is not so with a train of 
attendants much too large and tarries long abroad; and she 
feasts sumptuously both when abroad and at home, and she 
is very choice in her dress so that the fur trimming of her 
mantle are worth 100s. . . .' 

The worst breach of enclosure, and the sin which the 
Church abhorred most of all, was 'apostacy', the breaking of 
vows in order to wander in the world. Girls and men, lacking 
in religious vocation and susceptible to love-longing, some- 
tunes dared mortal shame and the pains of Hell by taking to 
their heels with a lover. Nuns were usually seduced by a 
neighbouring chaplain or vicar or a monk from a nearby 
house; but occasionally they went off with men they had met 
on their excursions into town. Agnes Butler, of St. Michael's, 
Stamford, disappeared for a day and a night with an Austin 
Friar; shortly after, she could not resist a wandering harp- 
player and lived with him for a year and a half at Newcastle. 
But she returned. Apostates almost always returned, sooner 
or later, temporarily or for good. 

The moment their flight was discovered they were excom- 
municated. Their sin was published abroad, and, on pain of 
excommunication, all folk were forbidden to help them in 
any way. Who would risk cursing for a run-away monk or a 
draggle-tailed nun? If the Church could not find them or 


frighten them into returning, it called upon the State; and, in 
the end, between Church and State, the guilty ones were 
usually apprehended. Often they returned of their own ac- 
cord, shamed and hungry and disillusioned. A pregnant nun, 
cast off by her lover, knelt in the dust before the convent 
gate and implored mercy. Though some prioresses tried to 
refuse admission to their fallen charges, the Bishop always 
insisted that. they be taken in so that they might cleanse their 
souls with harsh penances. This was the Church Merciful; but 
a soiled wanderer in the world, driven back to enclosure by 
force or because she had nowhere else to go, hardly bolstered 
the morale of her sisters. 

Even when they remained within their houses, monks and 
nuns were invaded by the world. The system of granting cor- 
rodies not only lightened the purse of a religious house but 
also lamed the spirit of enclosure and distracted the praise 
of God. To begin with, numerous communities had corrodians 
thrust upon them: the King and the family of the founder 
and perhaps the Bishop might possess by charter the privilege 
of appointing a certain number of corrodians to a house; such 
corrodies were used as means of rewarding faithful servants 
with a pension. In addition, people eager to turn their life- 
savings into such a livery 5 in order to guarantee themselves 
a tranquil and secure old age were usually able to find needy 
priors and prioresses willing to grant corrodies cheaply in 
order to get their hands on a little ready money. Thus, hus- 
bands and wives and children and servants and pets, cor- 
rodians all, plumped themselves down within monastic walls 
and troubled the quiet air of enclosure with the full-blooded, 
bustling, noisy ways of ordinary living. 

Bishop Alnwick discovered that the Prioress of Langley 
had sold a corrody to John Fraunceys and his wife for a mere 
20 marks (13 4s) and that the couple had been consuming 
the substance of the convent now for six years. At Nuncoton 
two corrodians, each of whom paid 20 marks, had been en- 
joying board and lodging for twelve and twenty years respec- 
tively. It appears that a gentleman named Thomas Foster 
bought one corrody from the Prioress of Thetford, but then 
moved himself, his wife, three children, and a maid into the 


convent where they lived for many a long day. After Bishop 
Grey had visited the nunnery of Godstow, he gave order that 
Telmersham's wife with her whole household and other 
women of mature age be utterly removed from the monastery 
within one year next to come seeing that they are a cause of 
disturbance to the nuns and an occasion of bad example by 
reason of their attire and those that come to visit them'. At 
St. Michael's, Stamford, 'Richard Grey, lately boarding in 
the priory together with his legitimate wife, had got one of the 
nuns with child', and he continued to live in the convent for 
some time after the Bishop had ordered his removal. The pets 
were often worse than the people. The Prioress of Langley 
complained that Lady Audley 'has a great abundance of dogs, 
in so much that whenever she comes to church there follow 
her twelve dogs, who make a great uproar . . . hindering 
them in their psalmody, and the nuns hereby are made ter- 
rified'. And at Legbourne 'Margaret Goodesby, a secular 
woman, lies of a night in the dorter among the nuns, bringing 
with her birds, by whose jargoning silence is broken and the 
rest of the nuns is disturbed'. 

Bishops who faithfully carried out their duties of visitation 
could not help on occasion being depressed by the failure of 
spiritual force within monastic walls. Of Huntingdon Priory, 
Bishop Grey sadly recorded, 'We found no good thing in the 
same which might be likened to religion save only the out- 
ward sign. . . . Alas for sorrow! religion is no more; love 
is driven out.* The figures best symbolizing the flagging fires 
and the habitual worldliness of monasticism in this age are 
not spectacular characters like the wicked Abbot of Welbeck 
and the hysterical Prioress of Catesby; but rather the 'jargon- 
ing' birds in the dorter and the Prioress of Gracedieu and her 
chaplain. The chaplain, a good hearty countryman, shocked 
the nuns sometimes because after cleaning out the stables he 
conducted divine service without washing his hands; and at 
harvest season the prioress went out into the fields to watch 
him gathering in the grain and *at evening she comes riding 
behind him on the same horse'. 

Throughout the fifteenth century the gap between the 
image of the Church and the fact of the Church widened; and 


it widened before the eyes of a generation of men increasingly 
dominated by fact rather than custom, increasingly critical of 
appearances, increasingly concerned with determinable values 
and their money's worth. 

Yet what perhaps might have surprised Geoffrey Chaucer 
and William Langland most about the reign of Edward IV 
was that the Church still reared its massive walls of power 
and privilege to the sky, and that few voices were raised to 
demand that it be parted from its wealth. Henry VTTT's 
spoliation of the Church in the 1530's, far from abruptly 
striking out a new historical direction, more nearly repre- 
sents the lagging fulfilment of a course charted a century and 
more earlier. When Chaucer died in 1400 the Church had 
been under severe attack for more than two decades. The 
followers of John Wycliffe, the Lollards, found increasing 
support among gentry and townsmen; and many men not in- 
fected by the Lollard heresy were crying out against the cor- 
ruption and unmerited wealth of the ecclesiastical establish- 
ment and clamouring for its lands, goods, revenues to be put 
to secular use. Langland boldly predicted the day when the 
State would lay hands upon the Church: 

Then shall the Abbot of Abingdon and all his issue forever 
Have a knock of a king and incurable the wound. 

The Lollards and the anti-clerical party were strong 
enough in the reign of Henry IV (1399-1413) to prepare a 
petition for Parliament demanding the seizure of the tem- 
poralities of the Church and proposing that the proceeds 
should be used to create fifteen earldoms, provide lands for 
1500 knights and 6200 squires, support 100 almshouses, and 
pour e 20,000 a year into the royal treasury. One measure of 
the changes fermenting during the Yorkist Age is the differ- 
ence between this curiously naive scheme, flavoured with feu- 
dal thinking, and Henry VHTs policy of binding gentry and 
townsmen to his cause by sharing his spoils with them. 

Henry V, fanatically orthodox, halted the advance of anti- 
clericalism and set out to destroy Lollardry with iron and fire. 
A desperate uprising led by Sir John Oldcastle and other 
conspiracies were ruthlessly crushed. In thus showing them- 


selves to be rebels as well as heretics, the followers of Wycliffe 
forfeited the support of the influential classes and were forced 
to go underground. By the 1430's of Henry VTs reign violent 
anti-Church feeling was apparently dying away. A lull in or- 
ganized assaults upon the establishment lasted for a century 
(1430-1530). Then the massive ivy encrusting the oak was 
severed by a royal axe. 

A multiplicity of causes engendered this surprising lull. For 
one thing, in the reign of Henry VI the realm grew increas- 
ingly distracted by the hopeless French war and mounting 
anarchy at home. For another, in the reigns of Edward IV 
and Richard HI and Henry VII the realm of England, recov- 
ered from the manifold shocks of the previous century, was 
becoming increasingly prosperous; there was plenty of land for 
the enterprising, and townsmen and gentry could find a way 
to worldly advancement without bothering to untruss the 
Church. But by the time Henry VIII had sat twenty years 
upon his throne, land was growing scarce and the middle 
classes more pushing; and King Henry himself was spurred 
by needs that Edward IV and Henry VII had not felt, and 
owned an authority that his grandfather and his father spent 
theur reigns in patiently building. 

During the fifteenth-century lull, the attack upon the 
Church shifted from the national to the local level, shifted 
inwardly to the minds of men, shifted from abuses to inade- 
quacies. Cities and boroughs battled bitterly against what 
they had come to consider an alien authority in their midst. 
Mayors like John Shillingford and towns like Exeter regarded 
themselves as true sons of the Faith Catholic, but they were 
no longer willing to identify that faith with the worldly in- 
stitution that thwarted their civil government. 

While townsmen openly battered at the walls of Church 
privilege, Lollardry gnawed away in the dark at the founda- 
tions of doctrine. The movement had lost its intellectual head- 
quarters, for Oxford had been severely purged of heretics and 
the books of Wycliffe and of Bishop Pecock condemned for 
basing his assault on Lollardry upon reason rather than upon 
ecclesiastical authority were ceremoniously burnt. By the 
generality of the upper classes Lollards were regarded as 


fanatical subversives; and north of Trent Lollardry was almost 
universally despised in one of the York plays a devil, 
Tutivillus, is described as 'a master Lollard'. Though no 
heresy-hunter like Henry V, Edward IV dutifully handed 
over heretics to the Church when he found them, as he had 
willingly confirmed the ancient privileges of the Church; for 
the Yorkists, though they in fact transformed the govern- 
ment of England and kept the ecclesiastical establishment in 
tight subjection, had won their way to the throne as champions 
of legitimacy in the state and traditionalism in religion. 

Lollards and their books continued to be burned; mayors 
and sheriffs were warned to be on the look-out for subversive 
elements. Edward IV felt impelled in December of 1475 to 
create an imposing commission, headed by his brothers the 
Dukes of Clarence and Gloucester, to inquire into treason 
and Lollardries and heretical errors in Dorset and Wiltshire. 
Lollardry, though no longer intellectually or socially present- 
able, exerted a significant pressure upon the Church during 
the Yorkist Age. 

The heresy was kept alive and spread mainly by poor 
priests and town artisans. Weavers were particularly prone 
to Lollardry-was this precise, prudent craft congenial to 
proto-Puritans or did sitting at the loom encourage sturdy 
contemplation? Scratch an itinerant weaver of the reign of 
Edward IV and you would often find a Lollard. When cap- 
tured by officers of the Church and put to a severe interroga- 
tion, many heretics flinched before the sudden reality of a 
fiery death and abjured their errors. These might be seen of a 
Sunday in Yorkist England parading about a churchyard clad 
only in shirt and breeches and shouldering a bundle of faggots, 
pausing at the command of a parish priest to recant aloud 
their miserable errors. 

But not a few held courageously to their opinions, or, 
having once recanted, when caught a second time-whicfa au- 
tomatically meant death regardless of further repentances 
bravely faced the flames. In the London mayoralty year of 
1466-67, Gregory's Chronicle relates, there was an heretic 
burned at Tower HOI, for he despised the sacrament of the 
altar; his name was William Balowe and he dwefled at 


Walden. And he and his wife were abjured long time before. 
And my Lord of London [the bishop] kept him in prison long 
time, and he would not make no confession unto no priest 
but only unto God, and said that no priest had no more power 
to hear confession than Jack Hare. . . . 

'At the time of his burning . . . [the] parson of St. Peter's 
in the Cornhill laboured him to believe in the holy sacrament 
of the altar. And this was the heretic's saying: "Bawe! Bawe! 
Bawe! What meaneth this priest? This I wot well, that on 
Good Friday ye make many gods to be put in the sepulchre, 
but at Easter Day they cannot arise themself but that ye must 
lift them up and bear them forth, or else they will lie still in 
their graves." ' 

Whoever wrote this portion of the Chronicle sounds more 
impressed than hostile; and martyrdoms must often have made 
a deep impact, even upon pillars of society who were good 
Catholics. When a popular parish priest, Richard Wyche, and 
his servant were burned at Tower Hill, 'there was [so] much 
trouble among the people that all the [officers of the] wards 
in London were assigned to watch there day and night*. 
What in fact happened was that a mob of weeping men and 
women scrabbled to bear away Wyche's ashes as if he were a 
saint; some erected a cross to mark the holy spot; others sold 
commemorative images of wax; until by command of Henry 
VI the mayor and sheriffs drove away the people and de- 
graded the place with dung 'so that no more idolatry could 
be done there'. It was reported that the Vicar of Barlings, in 
order to enrich himself with offerings, had doctored the 
phenomena of martyrdom by surreptitiously mixing incense 
with the ashes. 

Few who witnessed the last hours of John Goos could 
have remained unmoved; the very style of Fabyan's recital 
betrays his feeling: 'And in this year [1473-74] was one 
John Goos, a Lollard, burned at Tower Hill for heresy; the 
which before dinner was delivered unto Robert Byllysdon, 
one of the sheriffs, to put in execution the same afternoon; 
where he [the sheriff] like a charitable man had him home 
to his house and there exhorted him that he should die a 
Christian man and renounce his false errors. But that other, 


after long exhortation heard, required the sheriff that he 
might have meat, for he said that he was sore hungered. Then 
the sheriff commanded him meat, whereof he [par]took as 
[if] he had ailed nothing and said to such as stood ahout him, 
"I eat now a good and competent dinner, for I shall pass a 
little sharp shower ere I go to supper." And when he had 
dined, he required that he might shortly be led to his ex- 

Itinerant weavers trudged from market-place to market- 
place, ostensibly seeking work but in reality looking for kin- 
dred spirits or likely converts among the town artisans. In a 
candle-lit gathering of humble folk, most of them probably 
illiterate, these propagators of the new faith read aloud por- 
tions of the Bible translated by Wycliffe and such Lollard 
works as The Wycket and The Lantern of Life. The opinions 
of these heretics often differed now in details, for their intel- 
lectual fountainhead had been forcibly dried up; but then- 
main beliefs are revealed in the interrogation of James Wyllys 
before the Bishop of London in August of 1462. 

Typically, he was of Bristol and he was a weaver; he had 
secured portions of the Bible in English and learned hereti- 
cal doctrine from 'a certain William Smyth of Bristol*, who 
had been condemned for his opinions by the Bishop of 
Worcester and burned. Wyllys 'obstinately says and holds' that 
when he communicated on Easter Day *he received nothing 
at that time except material bread . . . and that it is not the 
true Body of Christ. . . . Also that a sinful priest has not the 
power of absolving anyone in confession from the stains of 
his sins, nor does it profit a man to confess to a priest. . . . 
Also that images are not to be adored . . . because these im- 
ages are stocks and stones. . . . Also that there is no place of 
Purgatory. Also that the Mass is of no value. . . . That the 
saints being in Heaven do not need the goods of men on 
earth. . . .' Wyllys ended by abjuring his errors, but since 
he had recanted once before to the Bishop of London, he 
was handed over to the secular arm as a relapsed heretic and 
committed to the fires. 

Lollards were to be found mainly in the southern half of 
England, in regions that draw a circle about London: East 


Anglia and Lincolnshire and Coventry and Bristol and the 
Channel counties and the capital itself. It was the men of 
these districts who propped Tudor authoritarianism and wel- 
comed the Tudor Reformation, as their grandsires had sup- 
ported the New Monarchy of Edward IV and their descend- 
ants would back Parliament and Cromwell against a King 
who, like the Lancastrians and the fifteenth-century Church, 
had lost touch with the facts. 

The Venetian diplomat thinking at first of the upper classes 
reported that the English 'all attend Mass every day and 
say many paternosters in public . . . nor do they omit any 
form incumbent upon good Christians. There are, however, 
many "who have various opinions concerning religion'. A 
comment he makes on politics illuminates this statement: If 
the King should propose to change any old established rule, 
it would seem to every Englishman as if his life were taken 
from him. . . .' The English clung to customary practices 
but tended to think as they pleased. And one day thinking 
would irradiate practice. 

In a way difficult to apprehend today unless the subject is 
shifted from religion to politics Englishmen of the fifteenth 
century were able to keep separate the unpleasant manifesta- 
tions and unwarranted privileges of the establishment from 
the faith which it enclosed, though even faith had become 
infected by the forms which bounded it. The clergy them- 
selves were so numerous, in all the ranks of Major and 
Minor Orders, that they were well understood to represent a 
cross-section of the fallible world. Almost everyone had kins- 
men and friends in the Church. Though Margaret Paston 
preferred her son Walter to become a 'good secular man 
than to be a lewd priest' and though in her lifetime she had 
known clerks who were worse than lewd, she did not object 
to Walter's becoming a good priest and she thought nothing 
of making this observation itself to a priest, her chaplain 
James Gloys. Furthermore, the age was tolerant of frailties, 
even clerical frailties, to a degree hard for more efficient 
times to appreciate. 

The Englishman of Edward IVs day had little use, how- 
ever, for the apical figure of Christendom, the Pope. Tope's 


curse,' men thought, 'would not kill a fly. 9 Representatives of 
the Holy See were sometimes roughly handled by royal offi- 
cers at ports of entry; the agent Aliprando, who fled in rage 
from Calais, believed that anti-papalism was fostered even by 
the bishops of the royal Council, *who have represented to the 
King that he must have all who come from Rome arrested. 
. . .' The Pope was a foreigner, a needy Italian potentate, 
who tried to squeeze money from England to carry on his 
petty Italian wars and to support a hungry, corrupt bureauc- 
racy. 5 Sir John Paston, hi reporting to his brother that he 
had applied to the Curia for an annulment of his troth to 
Anne Haute, remarked cynically, 'I have answer again from 
Rome that there is the well of grace and salve sufficient for 
such a sore, and that I may be dispensed with; nevertheless 
my proctor there asketh 1,000 ducats. . . .* Sir John was 
informed that the Pope every day put a multitude of such cases 
through the mill. 

People were also looking with a jaundiced eye on the 
papal privilege of sanctuary. However it might be propped 
by Popes* charters, it was a messy, unjust, unseemly business. 
Behind the sanctuary gate irresponsible debtors laughed at 
their creditors, and criminals waited till night to sally forth 
and rob honest citizens. In the turbulent 'fifties Londoners 
became so exasperated by the plunderings of a criminal gang 
who made St. Martin le Grand their headquarters that a mob 

5 A passage from the morality play Mankind (circa 1475) suggests 
that the Pope was sometimes treated very casually indeed in ribald con- 
versation. Two of the Vices, Nought and Now-a-Days, are chaffing each 

Now-a-Days: Also I have a wife; her name is Rachefl. 
Betwixt her and me was a great battle; 
And fain of you I would here tell 
Who was the most master. 

Nought: Thy wife Rachell, I dare lay 20 lies. 
Now-a-Days: Who spake to thee, fool? Thou art not wise! 

Go and do that longeth [belongs] to thine office 
Osculare fundamentumi 
Nought (addressing the Virtue, Mercy): 

Lo, master! lo! here is a pardon by limit; 
It is granted of Pope Pockett 
If ye will put your nose in his wife's socket, 
Ye shall have 40 days of pardon. 


attacked the sanctuary and waged an all-night battle with the 
robbers, in which two of the citizens and one of the criminals 
were killed. The town of Rye quietly solved the problem by 
decreeing, privilege or no privilege, that "as Holiness be- 
comes the Lord's House", the church and its precincts hence- 
forth would offer no more protection than "the houses of the 
free men, especially as to arrests and other matters" '. 6 

While resentment against the Church Worldly continued to 
gather force from many directions, the Church Spiritual too 
was no longer satisfying the religious hungers of men. The 
every-day and the eternal had become confused in a way that 
did not uplift the former and degraded the latter. Saints, 
through their remains, were addressed like good fellows who 
would do a favour if properly rewarded. In gestures of faith, 
like pilgrimage, the action often usurped what supposedly gave 
it meaning. The banquet which celebrated the installation of 
John Shillingford's friend John Stafford as Archbishop of 
Canterbury was brought to a climax by the serving of a 
'soteltie' sculptured to form 'a godhead and the Son of God 
glorified above; in the Son, the Holy Ghost **voluptable"; 
St. Thomas kneeling afore him with the point of a sword in 
his head. . . .' Idea could hardly escape contamination from 
such form. Even John Tiptoft, the erudite and very religious 
Earl of Worcester, concluded, on the scaffold, a thoroughly 
Machiavellian defence of his severities as Constable by re- 
questing the executioner to lop off his head in three strokes, 
in honour of the Trinity. 

As the awesome and the commonplace blurred, simple folk 
looked for the marvellous in witchcraft and superstition. 
Among the ever-growing middle ranks of gentry and towns- 
men, there was developing a movement towards private reli- 
gion, not unorthodox but essentially outside the church. Peo- 
ple were pondering the writings of the Yorkshire .mystic, 
Richard Rolle, and the Scale of Perfection of Walter Hilton 
and Thomas a Kempis's Imitation of Christ and the anony- 
mous Cloud of Unknowing. These devotional works and 
others enabled men to pursue the religious quest in their 

6 The nuisance of sanctuary lingered long after the Reformation, how- 


homes or in their minds while the priest at the altar said Mass. 
The Church of the Yorkist Age was permeated by the 
world and therefore susceptible to worldly measurement, 
and that measurement was growing ever more informed, critir 
cal, and detached. 


SETTING aside the capital of the realm, Bristol was the town 
for trade. And even London, though it had almost everything 
else, could not claim the Atlantic Ocean. The emblem of 
Bristol was a ship embroidered on the banners of the city 
troop that fought for Edward IV at Towton, engraved in the 
city seal, stamped upon the bells from its foundries. Bristol 
was cradled between wharves that stretched along the Avon 
and the Frome. On the other side of the Avon the suburb of 
Redcliffe was a hive of weavers. The lowland between the 
rivers swarmed with sailors. In Marsh Street a fraternity for 
mariners, maintained by a levy of 4d a ton on cargo arriving 
in the port, supported a priest and twelve poor sailors who 
prayed for merchants and seamen 'labouring* on the seas. 
Shanties echoed through the streets. One day the bemused 
town clerk found himself scribbling in his records: 

Hail and howe! Rumbylowe! 

Steer well the good ship and let the wind blow! 

Here cometh the Prior of Prikkingham and his Convent 

But ye keep the order well, ye shall be shent [ruined], 

With haft and howe! etc. 

Wharves and warehouses and vaulted cellars were piled 
with cloth to be exported and hogsheads of wine come from 
the South; and many a ship sailed up the Avon, deck heaped 
with fish, for Bristol was the Yarmouth of the West. Trade 
flowed in and out of the town by land and sea: men of Bristol 
collected and distributed goods in Wales, up the Severn to 


Coventry and Chester, and across the southern counties; and 
won for themselves the trade routes of the Atlantic. 

Files of packhorses carried cloth woven or warehoused in 
Bristol to the port of Southampton to be loaded on the Italian 
galleys, and the same horses came back freighted with silks 
and velvets to be worn by the merchant aristocracy. Bristol 
also drove a flourishing trade with London, less than three 
days away for carriers going by Chippenham and Newbury. 
Bristol dealers preferred to sell their cloth at the Steelyard, 
the entrepdt of the Hanse, rather than to native traders, for 
the Easterlings paid hard cash while Londoners wanted credit 
and tried to settle part of the debt in 'cards, tennis balls, 
bristles, tassels, and such other simple wares 5 . 

While the merchants of eastern England dealt mainly with 
the Baltic and Holland and Flanders and northern France, 
the men of Bristol had pushed westward and southward. 
Their vessels, equipped now with several sails and improved 
compasses that enabled them to navigate more effectively 
than their fathers, drove across great cold seas to faraway 
Iceland. Ships by the tens headed into the Atlantic laden with 
cloth and on their return were coasted up the Avon gorge by 
the mighty tide of the Severn, bringing from Ireland hides and 
linen and fish, from Gascony wine, from Spain wine and iron 
and leather and oil and soap and dye-stuffs. 

In this age one of the boldest Bristol merchants, Robert 
Sturmy or Sturmyn, Mayor in 1453-54, dared to challenge 
the Italians for the trade of the Mediterranean. Sturmy 9 s 
stout ship, the Cog Anne, set forth in the grey November 
weather of 1446 with 160 pilgrims bound for the Holy Land 
and a cargo of wool and tin. Down the Atlantic and between 
the 'Straits of Marrok' the Cog Anne made its way and on 
to Pisa, where the wool and tin were sold to friendly Floren- 
tines; and early in December the vessel deposited its pil- 
grims safely at Joppa. On the journey home, however, the 
Cog Anne ran afoul of a wintry tempest and was dashed to 
pieces on the rocks of the Peloponnesus. 

Far from losing heart, Robert Sturmy himself sailed for 
the Levant hi the summer of 1457, probably in the great mer- 
chantman the Katherine Sturmy, which he himself had built, 


'specially for war*. The Katharine Sturmy and its accompany- 
ing caravel carried lead, thousands of pieces of tin, 600 
sarplers of wool, and 6,000 pieces of cloth a cargo worth 
upwards of 20,000 (more than half a million in modern 
money). Before he left Bristol, Sturmy made his will: 'And 
for as much as I am passing over the sea under the mercy 
of God, I bequeath my body to be buried where it is most 
pleasing to God.' And so it turned out. Stunny reached the 
Levant in safety, successfully disposed of his merchandise, 
and began the long return journey, probably with a cargo of 
spices. But the Genoese had got word of his venture and 
were determined that no Englishman should break their trad- 
ing monopoly. As Sturmy neared Malta, he came upon a fleet 
of Genoa lying in wait for him. Apparently no quarter was 
given. Neither Robert Sturmy nor his two ships ever came 
back to England. Philip Meade, then Mayor of Bristol, an- 
grily sued all the Genoese in the realm before Henry VFs 
Council; and after a long legal battle the Italians were con- 
demned to pay 6,000. Not until Tudor days would Eng- 
lishmen begin to penetrate the Mediterranean, where brave 
Robert Sturmy had shown the way. 

The developing trade with Iceland formed the toughest and 
most venturesome part of Bristol maritime enterprise. Early 
in the century, the men of that strange, distant island seldom 
saw a ship, not even the six vessels a year promised them by 
the Norwegian government. Then the fishermen of Hull and 
Boston and Lynn rebelled against the irksome restriction that 
forced them to haul all catches made in Norwegian waters 
into the Staple port of Bergen, and they began to make the 
long voyage to Iceland fishing grounds, soon joined by the 
men of Bristol. The King of Denmark, alarmed by the in- 
vasion, forbade Englishmen to visit Iceland, though he some- 
times issued special permits, as did the King of England. But 
English fishermen and merchants sailed through fearsome' 
seas, licences or no licences. They set forth in the spring, 
summered off the Iceland coast, and returned in the late sum- 
mer or early autumn. Great merchantmen of Bristol, cocky 
doggers of Hull and Lynn clustered round the coasts. Their 
crews went ashore as they pleased to *build houses, erect tents, 


dig up the ground, and carry on fishery as if it were their own 
property'. Occasionally the English landed on the island in 
full martial array with trumpets blaring and banners whip- 
ping the air. Danish officials accused them of murder and 
pillage and rapine, even charged them with kidnapping or 
buying children and it appears that they did carry off a few. 
But the officers of the King of Denmark were not popular 
with the natives, and when a party of Englishmen captured 
and bore away the Danish governor, a chronicle representing 
the views of the Icelanders recorded tersely, Tew were sorry 
at that'. 

When a Danish governor, Bjorn Thorleifsson, arrived with 
a strong escort at Rif in 1467, he found English merchant- 
men and fishers carrying on a lively business. Before he could 
make any attempt to enforce his king's prohibitions, the Eng- 
lish fell upon him and his men like a thunder-clap, and 
'Bjorn the Mighty was smitten to death', his house sacked, 
and his son held for ransom. But when Bjorn's wife heard 
what had happened, she announced, "There shall be no 
weeping but rather gather men!' Donning a shirt of mafl 
and thrusting a woman's dress over it for seemliness she and 
her warriors 'came with craft upon the English and slew a 
great company of them, except the cook, who got his life 
very narrowly for that he had before helped their son*. This 
bold lady then sailed for Norway to report to the king; he is 
said to have found her 'a woman pleasant to behold'. 

Bristol merchants like William Canynges exported wheat 
and wine and quantities of cloth, especially brightly coloured 
cloth, to Iceland, and they also introduced such products of 
civilization as glasses, combs, caps and shoes, hardware, and 
small beer. From Iceland they brought home fish, fresh fish 
salted on the voyage or the iron-hard dried codfish, "pisces 
durus, vocatus Stockfysh'. A merchant whose vessel freighted 
600 worth of fish might sell the cargo for 1,000. 

The most famous citizens of Bristol, like Robert Sturmy 
and William Canynges, were shipbuilders and shipowners 
as well as merchants. Canynges possessed a princely fleet of 
ten vessels, totalling some 3,000 tons (burden) and employ- 
ing 800 men. The largest, the Mary and John, was of 900 


tons and cost 4,000 marks (2,600) to build a marvel of 
the time, for most English vessels were smaller than those of 
Italy and Spain. Freight rates were so profitable to ship- 
owners that if all ten of Canynges' ships were normally em- i 
ployed, he might in a single year enjoy a gross return of 
10,000. But the risks, too, were enormous: ships that bravely j 
outlasted tempests might fall to pirates, or ship and cargo 
could be tied up for months if the vessel was sequestered by 
the King to defend his coasts or do duty with his fleet. j 

Edward IV was the first King of England who systemati- ! 
cally encouraged the building of a merchant marine, as he 
initiated so many other Tudor innovations'. To stimulate' 
ship-building, he offered a first voyage free of customs and ! 
subsidies, he forbade merchants to freight cargoes in foreign 
bottoms if English ships were available, and he himself be- 
came the greatest trader in the realm. 

Before the end of his reign, the daring merchants of Bristol 
were already probing the future. In the summer of 1480,! 
John Jay sent two ships sailing westward into the Atlantic, 
navigated by a Welshman named Lloyd, 'the most scientific 
mariner of all England', to search for a land called The He of 
Brasfle'. After being tossed on stormy seas for two months, the 
vessels were forced to put back into an Irish port. But the 
following year another expedition set forth. And one day 
soon a man named John Cabot would come to Bristol. 

Still, Bristol and York and Southampton together could not 
equal London as a trading centre. By the end of the Yorkist 
Age the capital dominated the commerce of all England, and 
the marks of its merchants were known throughout Europe. 
The marts of London, operating twelve months in the year 
and sending forth streams of chapmen and offering their 
goods to the remotest manor by means of the common car- 
rier, were beginning to drive into decline the great mediaeval 
fairs, Stourbridge Fair, St. Giles at Winchester, the fairs of 
Cambridge and Salisbury and Coventry, survived the fifteenth 
century, but the Yorkist Age broke their grip on the trade of 
the realm. The Grocers of London refused to allow their 
members to offer goods for sale at any fair, and the Mercers 
followed suit When the Haberdashers began to cut into the 


Mercers' business by vigorous trading at the fairs, the Mer- 
cers worked to persuade all Companies to ban attendance 
there; and they might have succeeded except that Parliament, 
under pressure from fair-towns all over England, forbade 
such a boycott 

No Company better demonstrates how the merchants of 
London dealt in imports and exports than the Grocers, sec- 
ond in importance only to the Mercers. The Grocers traded 
en gros, in bulk; all of them, or almost all, were retailers as 
well as wholesalers; and no merchants bought and sold so 
wide a range of goods as they. Their company grew out of an 
amalgamation in the fourteenth century of the Pepperers or 
Spicers and the Canvas dealers or Corders and the Apothe- 
caries. In the fifteenth century they provided many a Lord 
Mayor for London (though fewer than the Mercers), their 
wharves and warehouses stretched along the Thames, and the 
names of their wealthiest members, like Stephen Browne, were 
known all over the Continent. 

Their company was governed by a master, usually a Lon- 
don alderman, and two wardens, who were assisted by a 
committee. The wardens were expected to trade with the com- 
pany funds, at their own risk, and to show a profit. In 1450 
the Grocers had a capital of about 500, which by 1488 had 
grown to over < 1,000. In a single year the wardens turned a 
profit of 41 through deals in pepper alone. The Grocers 
lent their money out to members of the company or to other 
merchants, sometimes for as low as 8J per cent interest but 
more often at the going rate of 12 per centfor usury, like 
adultery, was prohibited by the Church but firmly entrenched 
in society. 

The building and decoration of Grocers Hall, one of the 
handsomest company edifices in the city, cost about 60Q. 
Behind, stretched a lovely garden for the 'consolation and 
pleasure* of the members. Hedged with whitethorn, the gar- 
den offered a fig tree and a melon bed and wortieberries and 
grapes ripening in the sun against a parlour wall; while 
lavender, roses, and other blooms sweetened the air. The tired 
grocer might refresh himself by practicing archery at the butts 
or relax in a 'fair arbor*. There were *six pots of tin for birds 


to drink of; several gardeners were required to tend to 'divers 
delicate seeds' and potted plants, and to prune vines and trees. 
Like the other great companies, the Grocers were divided 
into Livery and non-Livery members, the latter being re- 
quired to ascend into the former when their incomes reached 
a certain figure. In 1470, seventy-five members were in the 
Livery, and one hundred and two were out of it. These 
'Bachelors of the Grocery 9 had their own officers and a 
separate social life. An ambitious young journeyman who 
wished to set up in business for himself needed considerable 
capital, though if he had friends he might be able to launch 
himself on credit. In 1480 the company established .40 as 
the minimum that such a young man must have, but it did 
not enforce this figure very long. 

Grocers were able to demand premiums of their appren- 
tices, paying 20s to the company for each apprentice they 
took; for in good times a journeyman grocer could easily 
command 5 or 6 a year, and board, and if he were espe- 
cially apt, up to 20. Furthermore, the Grocers did not mind 
if such a young man did a little trading on his own in order 
to accumulate capital. The Mercers, on the other hand, who 
regarded themselves with some reason as the aristocrats of 
international trade, were much more strict: by 1503 they were 
requiring 100 as the minimum capital with which to set up 
shop, and they did not allow their young men to trade for 
themselves though the young men did it anyway, hiding mer- 
chandise in taverns and 'other secret trading places'. 

In theory, the Grocers devoted themselves to importing, or 
buying from importers, spices and canvas and all manner of 
ropery and drugs and unguents and soap and confections. 
But they traded far more widely than their amalgam of gilds 
implied; and many of them were exporters as well as im- 
porters. When a bargain in fish came their way, they dealt in 
fish. They won for themselves most of the trade in French 
and Flemish garlic, cabbages, onions, and apples. Nearly all 
the fruits of the Mediterraneanoranges and almonds and figs 
and dates and raisins that Italian carracks and Spanish mer- 
chantmen brought to Southampton found then* way into the 
hands of grocers, who often distributed them from that port 


instead of trans-shipping them to London. They imported 
quantities of wine, too, but then almost everybody traded in 
wine, mercers and drapers and ironmongers and fishmongers 
and goldsmiths and tailors, as well as nobles and gentry. 
Wine was so liquid an asset that it was used as a medium of 
exchange, even for the payment of debts. Grocers also im- 
ported iron and steel from the Baltic or from Spain and car- 
ried on a brisk business in dye-stuffs, woad and madder, scarlet 
grains, saffron. 

Still, spices and drugs 'subtle ware 5 , as they were called 
accounted for the major portion of their trade. They could 
claim no monopoly Stephen Forster, fishmonger, once pur- 
chased 22 bales of pepper for -529 but they dominated the 
market in these exotic goods. Even the wealthiest grocers, who 
might import up to -4,000 worth of stuff a year, kept retail 
shops, usually in Bucklersbury Lane, and those shops were 
stuffed with honey, licorice, dyes, alum, soap, brimstone, pa- 
per, varnish, salt, vinegar, garden seeds, canvas, rope, musk, 
incense, rice, sugar loaves, treacle of Genoa, mercury, and 
all manner of syrups and spices. When Sir John Howard was 
in London in September of 1466, he bought from his apothe- 
cary 'a little barrel of water for the sickness ... a little box 
of preservative ... a pot of treacle'. 

London trade, then, was not departmentalized by the mer- 
chant gilds. A man did not have to be a vintner to import 
wine, nor a fishmonger to deal in fish, nor a grocer to sell 
canvas; and goldsmiths, tailors, skinners might be found han- 
dling all these commodities. The advantages of being a grocer 
if one dealt in grocery were two-fold: trade secrets and 
'know-how' were shared; and the officers of the company en- 
joyed, by royal charter, exclusive supervision of spices and 
heavy commodities. What determined the major trading area 
of a company was the 'right of search' which it exercised. 
The Grocers had charge of the king's beam for weighing ex- 
ports and imports in bulk and possessed the office of 'garbling* 
(inspecting and grading) spices and drugs. Their garblers ex- 
amined all bales of pepper to see if pepper dust had been 
fraudulently added, and their searchers could enter at will any 
shop which sold grocery ware. 


But the trade of England which made her most famous 
throughout Europe and prosperous at home rested upon the 
backs of her sheep, as it would until the Industrial Revolution. 
Not until the sixteenth century would the Lord Chancellor seat 
himself upon a woolsack; but it was in the Yorkist Age that 
the prosperity won from wool and woollen cloth first wrought 
itself into a loveliness of stone and brick and gilded wood. 
Up and down the country Merchants of the Staple and 'brog- 
gers* middlemen in wooland Merchant Adventurers and 
clothiers vied with each other in building handsome houses, 
their merchants* mark proudly gilded above the front door, 
and in rebuilding parish churches in the Perpendicular style, 
whose eloquent spaces and entrancing geometry of straight 
lines and expanses of glass and fan vaulting gave a man the 
most dazzle for his money. These merchants bequeathed them- 
selves and their wives to the centuries in church brasses, where 
the woolpacfc or the sheep or sometimes the clothier's shears 
reveal what made it all possible. Thomas Paycocke's timbered 
mansion in Coggeshall, inns and houses in Suffolk villages, the 
reaches of golden stone in Chipping Camden and Northleach 
and Broadway and elsewhere in the Cotswolds, the towered 
churches of Somerset, the church of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bris- 
tol, re-edified by William Canynges these offer a more telling 
picture of life during the Wars of the Roses than chronicles 
of battle. 

England held a European monopoly of the best grade of 
wool, 'chief treasure in this land growing'. Its nearest rival, 
Spanish wool, had to be liberally mingled with English wool 
for the making of fine cloth: 

All nations affirm up to the full- 
In all the world there is no better wool. 

Exported by the thousands of sacks on Italian galleys sailing 
through the 'Straits of Marrock* and dispatched hi even 
greater quantities across the Channel to Calais and thence into 
the Low Countries, English wool fed the looms of the clever 
artisans in Florence and Venice and Milan and was turned by 
the weavers of Bruges and Mechlin and the cities of Holland 
into luxurious woollens prized by all Europe. In 1437 a shrewd 


economist 1 expressed in a poem called The Libelle of Eng- 
tysche Poly eye the convictions of the London merchants about 
English trade. Two points in particular were hammered home: 
England must have a strong navy in order to 'keep the Nar- 
row Seas', whereby English shipping will be protected and 
foreign merchants can be constrained to divert their trade, 
now enriching the Low Countries, to the ports of England. In 
the second place, English diplomacy must take into account 
the monopoly of wool and thus bring the Flemings to see what 
side their bread is buttered on: 

The little land of Flanders is 

But a staple [market] to other lands, iwys [truly]. . . . 

By draping of our wool in substance 

Live then* commons, this is their governance; 

Without which they may not live at ease. 

Thus must them starve or with us must have peace. 

The export of wool, it is true, was declining as the cloth 
business expanded; and even after the revival of trade under 
Edward IV no more than about 9,000 sacks were exported 
annually, whereas in the heyday of wool in the fourteenth 
century more than 30,000 sacks had left English shores in a 
year. During Edward IVs reign, however, the men who dealt 
in wool, the worshipful Company of the Merchants of the 
Staple, still considered themselves the flower of English mer- 

Records reveal the name of more than 300 Staplers doing 
business in this period. Most of these were London merchants, 
but there were a number of provincial Staplers too, like John 
Barton of Holme, beside Newark, who jauntily inscribed in a 
window of his house: 

I thank God and ever shall 
It is the sheep hath paid for all. 

The Staple itself, the official channel through which the wool 
trade was required to pass, had been fixed since 1426 at Calais, 

1 Probably Adam Moleyns, later Bishop of Chichester and a royal 
Councillor; murdered in 1450 (see Epilogue: Wars of the Roses). 


within easy sailing distance of London and the Channel ports 
and but a short ride from Bruges and Ypres and the great 
Flanders fairs. Four-fifths of the wool that left England went 
through Calais. 

The Cely Papers and the Stonor Letters reveal that the 
structure of the wool trade required a network of trusty agents. 
It was a good business for a partnership like that of Sir Wil- 
liam Stonor and Thomas Betson, or for a family group like 
the Celys with their office in Mark Lane and their country 
manor of Bretts Place, Essex. Old Richard Cely depended 
most upon his eldest and steadiest son, Richard. The sporting 
George usually had his mind on his horse Py and his hawk 
Meg even when he was bargaining with Flemish buyers, whose 
names his pen struggled to reproduce. Robert the Black Sheep 
could not keep his thoughts on business at all for running after 
girls in London or gambling with dice at Calais. William, a 
cousin, was making his way as an apprentice or journeyman. 

In the spring of 1480 Robert was lingering at Bruges, afraid 
to come back to Calais because he had been charged with 
desertion in the bishop's court. He had somehow got himself 
betrothed to one Joan Hart, and Joan's relatives were trying 
to wring money out of Robert's father. Old Richard Cely 
countered by demanding the return of the gifts which the 
prodigal Robert had showered on the girl. Finally Joan's peo- 
ple gave back a girdle of gold with silver buckle and pendants, 
a gold ring with a little diamond in it, a damask carpet. 

Whenever he got in a scrape, Robert piteously applied to 
brother George, for old Richard Cely but too well understood 
his son's 'childish dealings', and young Richard too turned a 
deaf ear, pointing out to George that one loan would in- 
evitably lead to an application for another. Perhaps George 
was the more inclined to sympathize with Robert because he 
himself was not a pillar of rectitude. On one occasion his 
servant wrote to him from Calais, 'Also I let you know, where 
ye go and eat puddings the woman is with child'. Some- nine 
months later George was informed that 'Margery' needed new 
clothes for her churching , . ,' 'as she had the other time'. A 
few weeks later, he learned that Margery's infant daughter 
had died 


While old Richard Cely managed affairs in Mark Lane, 
young Richard rode off through late spring sunshine and rain, 
hawk on fist to let fly at a heron by the way, in order to pur- 
chase wool in the Cotswolds. William Cely was stationed at 
Calais to receive and house the sarplers. George went to the 
Sinxon Mart at Antwerp, the great summer fair, to collect 
money due from Flemish buyers and to stir up new business. 
The Betson-Stonor partnership worked in the same way. Down 
in the country Sir William Stonor supervised the clipping and 
packing of wool from his own manors and his neighbours'. 
Thomas Betson in London, assisted by two apprentices, saw 
to the weighing of the wool at the Leadenhall and the ware- 
housing of the sarplers till the wool fleet sailed. Meantime a 
third apprentice had departed for Calais in order to take 
charge of the shipment there; and then Thomas Betson crossed 
the Channel and went on to the Flanders Fairs, where he col- 
lected debts in a bewildering variety of coin and arranged 
for the transfer of funds to London by bills of exchange. A 
half century later, John Johnson, Merchant of the Staple, was 
carrying on his business in almost exactly the same way. 
Young Richard Cely spelled somewhat more phonetically than 
Johnson St Olave's church becomes 'Sent Tolowys scryssche' 
but on the other hand, Richard Cely never had to worry 
about a wayward aunt who at St. Omer made such indiscreet 
Protestant remarks concerning heathen images and whores 
of Babylon that she almost ended her days in one of the Em- 
peror's dungeons. 

There were some half a hundred different grades of English 
wool, ranked according to the localities in which the sheep 
pastured; and they were also labelled according to age, for 
Flemish merchants were required to take one sack of 'old 
wool', of the previous season's clip, for every three sacks of 
new wool they purchased. Though *March wool' from a small 
area in Shropshire and Herefordshire fetched the top price 
of 14 marks a sack (9 6s 8d), the clip from the great flocks 
grazing in the Cotswolds, worth 12 or 13 marks the sack, was 
so sought after that 'Cotswold* meant wool of best quality. 
Then came the wool of Hampshire and Wiltshire, priced at 7 
marks the sack; the clip in Kent and Yorkshire brought only 


4 marks; and Surrey and Suffolk wool went for about 50s 
a sack. 

Spring was the season for the Stapler to ride into the coun- 
try in order to purchase wool from sheep-owner or brogger. 
He shipped his sacks in the 'wool fleets' that periodically sailed 
for Calais during the summer, In the autumn he again took to 
the road to *cast a sort* (examine samples) for next spring's 
purchases and bought wool-fells (hides) produced by the No- 
vember slaughtering. 2 

On a May morning, the streets of Northleach and Chipping 
Camden and Burford and Stow clattered with the horses and 
hummed with the talk of Staplers and hawk-eyed Italian buy- 
ers and a few London mercers and drapers out to turn an 
extra penny in wool and farmers and broggers and members 
of the fellowship of wool-packers. Like Thomas Betson, whom 
they knew, the Celys swore by Cotswold wool; they dealt 
mainly with William Midwinter and John Busshe of North- 
leach, both flourishing broggers, the former of whom left 
. 600 and broad lands when he died in 1 501 . 

After a Stapler purchased wool, it was baled by a wool- 
packer and his men, who were appointed by the Staple to 
grade wool impartially as 'indifferent persons'. Stringent regu- 
lations forbade mixing earth, hair, sand, or rubbish with the 
wool, or mislabelling it, or not packing it hi the county of 
origin. In the country, the fellowship of wool-packers served 
to protect the Stapler against fraud on the part of the middle- 
man; but these same packers also examined the sacks when 
they reached Calais, and then they protected the good name 

* Old Richard Cely to George Cely at Calais, writ at London the xxij 
day of Ma/, 1480: '[By] a letter from you written at Calais the xiij of 
May ... I have well understood of your being at the marts [Flanders 
fair] and of the sale of my middle wool desired by John Destermer and 
John Underhay, wherefore by the Grace of God I am a-busied for to 
ship this aforesaid sarplers, the which I bought of, William Midwinter 
of Northleach, xxvj sarplers the which is fair wool, as the wool-packer 
Wfll Breton saith to me, and also the iij sarplers of the rector's is fair 
wool, much finer wool nor was the year before, the which I shipped 
afore Easter last past The shipping is begun at London but I have none 
shipped as yet but I will after these Holy Days, for the which I wfll ye 
order for the freight and other costs. This same day your brother Rich- 
ard Cely is ridden to Northleach for to see and cast a sort of fell for 
me and another sort of fell for you. . . .' 


of the Staple from sharp practice on the part of merchants, 
or so they were supposed to do. Will Breton, the Celys* fa- 
vourite packer, was a much-travelled man, moving about from 
Southampton to the Cotswolds to London to Calais. 

After the bulky sarplers, each holding two or three sacks, 
had been brought to Londonor another of the Staple ports 
and been weighed and registered at the Leadenhall by royal 
'customers', they were warehoused until there was a sailing 
for Calais. For the Narrow Seas were coursed by Scots and 
Breton privateers, and in the early summer the wool ships 
sailed in fleets with convoys. 'Conduct money 5 was a standard 
part of the freight-rate. Wool ships set forth not only from 
London and Boston and Lynn and Ipswich but also from such 
tiny ports as Walberswick on the Suffolk shore and Rainham 
and Bradwell in Essex and even from towns along the Med- 
way like Maidstone, though such vessels could have been little 
more than barges of about 30 tons. 

As a hedge against disaster, merchants shipping in the wool 
fleets scattered their cargoes among half a dozen or more 
vessels. Communications from London specify in detail the 
locations and markings of the wool or wool-fells. A list of 
such descriptions prepared by young Richard Cely for his 
brother George at Calais includes 'in the Thomas of Newhithe 
[on the Medway], Robert Hewan master, a pack Ixiiij fells 
Cotswold; they lie behind the mast and Betson's fells lie above 
them'. The Cely and Stonor letters echo with sighs of relief 
that a fleet has come safe to port. 'Blessed be Jhesu', wrote 
Betson's apprentice, Thomas Henham, 'I have received your 
wools in safety!' Enemy cruisers as well as storms were always 
to be feared: 'Robert Eryke was chased with Scots between 
Calais and Dover. They scaped narrow.' 

From the buying of the wool in the Cotswolds to its sale ia 
Calais, the trade was supported on a structure of credit The 
Celys usually paid their brogger, William Midwinter, half the 
price on delivery and the remainder in two instalments at in- 
tervals of three months or even longer. From the Dutch and 
Flemish buyers riding into Calais, the Staplers customarily re- 
ceived as 'earnest money* or 'God's penny 9 a third of the selling 
price in coin and the rest 'at six months and six months*. When 


the wool market became sluggish, even more lenient credit 
was extended; and rebates were given to buyers with a good 
reputation for paying. The Flemings and Dutch were charged 
interest, but this, like fluctuations in price, was concealed by 
manipulating the rate of exchange. An ambitious apprentice 
not only needed to know French and Flemish and Latin, but 
he had to master the shifting values of the many kinds of coin 
that poured into Calais: Andrew gilders and the Arnoldus 
gulden (much debased) and Carolus groats and old crowns 
and new crowns of France and Davids of Utrecht (much de- 
based) had to be calculated against Scots riders and Bur- 
gundy riders and Rhenish florins and Nimwegen groats and a 
dozen other coins. English money was solider than most of 
the coinages: on May 10, 1484, 30s Flemish were required 
to buy 20s English. 

In order to collect the money due them, George Cely and 
Thomas Betson had to ride into Flanders at all seasons to at- 
tend the fairs, the Cold Mart in winter and the Easter Pasche 
Mart and the Sinxon Mart in summer and the October Balms 
Mart. Staplers like the Celys who did not have a great store of 
capital were under the constant strain of meeting their obliga- 
tions to English middlemen by means of remittances from 
Flanders. These took the form of bills of exchange drawn on 
Lombard banks or on Merchant Adventurers with offices in 
London and Antwerp. In June of 1480 young Richard Cely 
wrote hastily to his brother George that he had bought ,91 
13s 4d worth of fells from Midwinter and had to pay -40 
down within five days and the remainder in two payments at 
Bartholomewtide and Hallowstide; 'Sir, I pray you have these 
days in remembrance, my poor honesty Hes thereupon.' 

The poor honesty of the Celys did not always stretch as far 
as it might have done. Despite stringent regulations of the 
Staplers and inspections and re-inspections, there were a num- 
ber of ways of beating the game and the Celys were old Calais 
hands. It appears that on one occasion at least they concluded 
a sale with Flemish buyers who had come to England, which 
was prohibited. On another, when the Lieutenant of the Staple, 
inspecting a shipment of Cely wool newly arrived at Calais, 
designated sarpler No. 24 to be opened for examination, Wil- 


Ham Cely, knowing it to be of middle wool and Very gruff*, 
persuaded the 'indifferent packer' to cast out sarpler No. 8 
instead, which was of 'fair wool'; and once the numbers of 
the two sarplers had been exchanged William was able to 
write home contentedly, *Your wool is awarded by the sarpler 
that I cast out last*. It is not surprising that Flemish buyers 
constantly complained to the Staple that the wool sacks they 
opened in Bruges did not contain the fair wool* they had 
purchased at Calais. 

The fellowship of wool packers owned a rich repertory of 
'deceitful sleights' which they practiced for their own benefit 
or that of a generous customer; and the Celys 3 friend William 
Breton was master of them all. 'Bearding and clacking 9 was a 
favourite device; by thus forcing* the wool, that is, removing 
all impurities such as tarry marks, one sack paying only the 
ordinary custom and subsidy sold for three times as much as 
the normal sack. The trick of 'inwinding 5 produced a sack of 
outwardly fair and inwardly inferior wooL Records reveal that 
one of William Breton's most cherished frauds was to cut the 
feet off fells and then stuff them into a sack labelled 'Cotswold 

In one year the Celys, not among the wealthiest Merchants 
of the Staple, did more than 2,000 worth of business, which 
brought them a gross profit of perhaps 300. A sack of good 
Cotswold cost at Northleach something like 8; by the time 
the expense of transportation to London had been added and 
the custom and subsidy of 40s per sack and freightage to 
Calais (about 6s 6d a sack), the wool offered to a Flemish 
dealer had cost the Celys 1 1 and they received for it perhaps 
19 marks (12 13s). Thus they made a gross profit of about 
2 on a sack; but favourable rates of exchange and other 
advantages might drive the profit up to 3. 

At high-roofed Calais, garrisoned by English troops and 
occupied by English landlords and ruled by the Staple, the 
merchants lived like a community of initiates vowed to serve 
the god of the wool-trade. They talked of bargains and of the 
doings of the sinister French King (Louis XI) and enjoyed 
tidings come hot from the court of the Emperor or from the 
camp of the Duke of Burgundy. They were required to live 


in licenced lodgings, which were provided with a high table 
for merchants (board perhaps 3s 6d a week) and side tables 
for apprentices and lesser fry (board at 2s 6d) . Though the 
town was surrounded by dreary marshes, a Stapler might ride 
out, hawk on fist, to take a glass of wine with other good fel- 
lows at Guisnes or Hamrnes; and on occasion the married men 
challenged the bachelors to a bout of archery. Since Calais 
was reputed for its bargains in all manner of wares, Staplers 
and visitors always had shopping to do for their friends. The 
Celys bought goshawks, onion seed, Gascon wine, pickled 
Meuse salmon, lambskins, mink, tapestries, armour, sugar 
loaves, fine Louvain gloves. When Sir John Howard came to 
Calais in 1466, he purchased Holland cloth by the hundreds 
of yards, draperies and bedding, ribbons, laces, not forgetting 
five yards of white damask costing 5s 6d as a gratuity for his 

Although the worshipful Merchants of the Staple continued 
to be a great and famous company throughout the Yorkist 
Age, they had been surpassed before the end of Edward IVs 
reign by their younger and freer rivals, the Merchant Adven- 
turers. Under the leadership of the Mercers of London the 
Adventurers had secured their final charter of incorporation 
earlier in the century; and though, after a bitter battle, they 
failed to make much headway against the Hanse traders in the 
Baltic and the Germanics, they had won a virtual monopoly 
of the export of English cloth to the marts of the Low Coun- 
tries. Domiciled at Bruges and then at Antwerp in the 'English 
House'-of which William Caxton, mercer, had been governor 
before a newfangled craft caught his eye the agents of Lon- 
don mercers and other merchants from all over England sold 
white, unfinished broadcloths by the thousands and bought for 
the home market a variety of 'mercery* ranging from tennis 
balls to spectacles. 

Lords and abbots and knights and yeomen-farmers who 
owned large sheep-runs were not troubled by the shrinking 
wool trade; for they now sold much of their clip to the new 
race of men who supplied the cloths for the Merchant Ad- 
venturers to export, the clothiers. Though in Norwich and 


Coventry and Salisbury and Bristol quantities of cloth were 
still being manufactured under the stifiingjy regulated, cum- 
bersome gild system the weavers working for the dyers or 
the dyers for the fullers, the cloth passing from independent 
artisan to artisan those infant capitalists, the clothiers, had 
created an industry in the freedom of the countryside and 
were busy building fulling-mills and gig-mills (the gig was a 
machine to raise nap) along swift-flowing streams. They fi- 
nanced and managed all the processes of cloth-making. 
Through borough and manorial villages passed files of pack- 
horses as the servants of the clothiers transported thread from 
carders and spinners to weavers and took bales of cloth from 
the weavers to the fulling-mills. 

Artisans, their independence lost, sometimes complained an- 
grily that clothiers pared their pay or made them take half 
their wages in cheap mercery wares. Often the goodman no 
longer worked in his cottage but trudged early in the morning 
to the clothier's mansion and there on the top floor occupied 
one of a row of looms. A number of clothiers, however, felt 
a paternal obligation to their workers. Thomas Paycocke of 
Coggeshall, whose house with its carved beams still fronts the 
village street, bequeathed 6s 8d to a former apprentice, Hum- 
phrey Stonor; 20s 'to Thomas Goodday, shearman, and each 
of his children 3s 4d apiece*; and a variety of sums to other 
Gooddays of Sampf ord and Sisted and Coggeshall. To 'John 
Beycham, my weaver* he left <5 and *a gown and a doublet 5 ; 
Robert Taylor was forgiven whatever money he owed and 
received 3s 4d in addition. *I bequeath to all my weavers, 
fullers, and shearmen that be not afore rehearsed by name 
12d apiece, and will they that have wrought me very much 
work have 3s 4d apiece. Item, I bequeath to be distributed 
among my combers, carders, and spinners summa 4.* 

Not many years after the close of Edward JVs reign, the 
names of the great clothiers rang up and down England as if 
they were legendary characters of romance: Thomas Dolman 
of Newbury; the Tames of Fairford; the Springs of Lavenham 
in Suffolk; and John Wynchcombe, immortalized by Thomas 
Deloney as Jack of Newbury. When Thomas Dolman retired 
from clothmaking, the Newbury weavers lamented. . . . 


Lord have mercy upon us, miserable sinners, 
Thomas Dolman has built a new house, and turned away 

all his spinners. 

The Tames would entertain Henry Vm in the mansion that 
cloth built. Thomas Spring married a daughter to a son of the 
Earl of Oxford, gave 200 to rebuilding Lavenham church, 
and left money for 1,000 masses to be said for his soul. James 
Terumber, or Tucker (the alias suggests that he began life as 
a fuller) , so handsomely rebuilt the village of Trowbridge that 
clothiers in all the region round were moved to emulate his 
good works. 

Cloths were manufactured in a wide variety of sizes and 
colours kerseys and straits and statutes and dozens and med- 
leys and blod and many others. Three kerseys or four straits 
were roughly equivalent to one broadcloth; dozens, the cloth 
that the country weaver brought into Coventry and was per- 
mitted to sell Changing on his arm' were half-broadcloths. Blod, 
a red cloth, very popular, brought from ,1 to .2 the cloth; 
medleys ranged in price from 24s to almost ,4 a cloth. But 
the cloth which the Merchant Adventurers usually exported 
was the 'broadcloth of assize', twenty-four yards long and two 
yards wide, as established by Parliamentary statute. Most of 
these cloths were exported unfinished, for the artisans of the 
Low Countries, hard pressed by the competition of English 
looms, had been forced to concentrate their industry on dyeing 
and shearing and napping. 

Nothing could obstruct the rising tide of trade generated by 
the Merchant Adventurers. When Philip the Good, Duke of 
Burgundy, besieged by his merchants crying that English cloth 
was ruining them, forbade the Adventurers to import into 
Flanders, they simply moved their 'House' from Bruges to the 
Imperial city of Utrecht and continued a thriving business. 
Merchants of the Staple fought bitterly to break the Adven- 
turers* monopoly, but just as mercers who dealt in wool were 
required to put themselves under Staple regulation, so too the 
Staplers who exported cloth were forced to pay the fees ex- 
acted by the Merchant Adventurers and abide their rules. 
Early in his reign Edward IV, himself a great Adventurer, 


issued a new charter to the company which gave them all they 
wanted. They were permitted to draw up ordinances in order 
to govern all trade with the Low Countries, except that in 
wool and tin; and every English merchant exporting or im- 
porting in the dominions of the Duke of Burgundy was re- 
quired to pay them a fee and submit his business deals for their 

The Mercers of London formed the mainspring of the or- 
ganization: the 'Court of Adventurers' was held in Mercers 
Hall, the Governor in the Low Countries was almost always a 
mercer, and the Mercers spent large sums which they assessed 
upon the Adventurers in securing privileges and conducting 
trade diplomacy. But grocers, drapers, haberdashers, skinners, 
and some tailors and fishmongers also belonged to the asso- 
ciation and had a voice in its decisions. 

Like the Staplers, the Merchant Adventurers shipped their 
wares in fleets, which were convoyed by heavily armed ves- 
sels; and the sailings of these cloth-armadas usually coincided 
with the times when the four great seasonal fairs of Flanders 
were about to begin. In 1475 the Wardens of the Mercers 
informed the Governor of the English House at Antwerp, 
There be divers ships here appointed, as well by drapers, 
grocers, haberdashers, and the assent of the fishmongers as 
by our fellowship, which now by God's grace shall come to 
the Balms Marf . The articles of 'mercery* which the English 
merchants purchased at the fairs to import into England were 
likewise shipped in convoyed fleets. The Governor apportioned 
freight rates and 'conduct money 9 and saw to it that the vessels 
were properly victualled, *tackled and [famished] with habili- 
ments of war*. Traders who shipped on their own when space 
in the fleet was available were required to pay their share of 
the charges. 

The term 'Merchant Adventurers' had once referred to all 
foreign traders, except Staplers, 'adventuring* anywhere; but 
the increasing power and prosperity of those exporting cloth 
to the Low Countries attached to their association the generic 
label, 'Merchant Adventurers of England'. Just as the London 
Mercers dominated this body, so this body in turn dominated 
all the other Adventurers of the realm. The Merchant Ad- 


venturers of Bristol, however, exported cloth each 'at his 
adventure' mainly to France and Spain and Iceland, the small 
number who traded with the Low Countries forming a separate 
body controlled by the overseas Governor. The Merchant Ad- 
venturers of York were nearly all hi the Netherlands trade; 
along with the Adventurers of Newcastle and Hull they sent 
forth their own fleets to the Flanders Fairs and elected a Gov- 
ernor and claimed to be independent. But they were required 
none the less to obey the regulations and pay the 'outrageous 
contributions* enforced by the London company. The Adven- 
turers were all a proud lot, their spirit exemplified by the 
Adventurers of Hull who accepted into their fellowship only 
those who lived 'by the way and means of buying and selling 
and by great adventure*. 

Their merchant-long, Edward IV, carefully guided his for- 
eign policy in the interests of the Adventurers and made them 
partners in his diplomacy. Many times, through the Mayor of 
London, he summoned them to Westminster so that he might 
hear their wishes, explain his negotiations with Burgundy, and 
appoint some of their members to take part in or to instruct 
his embassies to the Duke. Not yet accustomed to a king who 
understood the importance of trade, the Adventurers in 1464 
shrank from Edward's request that they negotiate a renewal 
of mercantile intercourse and asked the Mayor of London to 
persuade the King 'hi the most pleasant wise' to use his own 
diplomats. But in 1467 and 1468 William Caxton, at King 
Edward's request, was heading delegations of Adventurers 
who treated with the Duke of Burgundy's representatives re- 
garding the sale of English cloth and the fixing of a standard 
rate of exchange, 

In the 1470's Caxton and other Adventurers again took 
part with royal diplomats in trade negotiations with the Bur- 
gundians, as King Edward continued to press his ally, Duke 
Charles, to accord advantageous terms to English merchants. 
A set of instructions he and his council drew up in 1474 or- 
dered his ambassadors to 'insist with all diligence' that (1) 
the Duke permit a free market for English cloth in his do- 
minions; (2) the sale of Spanish and Scottish wool be cur- 
tailed and better provision be made for Newcastle wool; (3) 


the negotiators establish standard values for the various coin- 
ages circulating in the Low Countries; (4) 'searches made 
upon Englishmen hereafter be not made in fields and highways 
without the towns, but in good towns and more honestly than 
hath been used aforne and in late days'; (5) tolls and customs 
be 'set in certain* and not altered upwards; (6) English mer- 
chants receive permission to export from the Low Countries 
^horses, harnesses, all manner artillery and habiliments of war 5 ; 
and (7) *rovers, men of war, or enemies unto England' should 
be excluded from the Duke's ports and territories. Throughout 
his reign the King worked to further the prosperity of his for- 
eign traders. Henry VITs treaties of mercantile intercourse 
with the Netherlands represent no more than a continuation, 
of Edward IVs solidly established policy. 

The Merchant Adventurers rode the forces of the future. 
Whereas the export of cloth in 1354 had amounted to only 
4,774 pieces, at the close of Richard IIFs reign England was 
shipping abroad almost 70,000 broadcloths a year, worth 
something more than 100,000; and whereas in the four- 
teenth century the lion's share of foreign trade had fallen to 
alien merchants, by the end of Edward IVs reign the volume 
of trade carried on by aliens was less than two-thirds that of 
the Merchant Adventurers alone. In the sixteenth century the 
Merchants of the Staple would close their books forever, when 
the demands of native looms forced an embargo on the export 
of English wool; and the once-thriving cities of Flanders would 
sink into decay. 

Merchants of all kinds who entrusted cargoes to the sea 
were splendid gamblers: profits were great and so were the 
perils. Many a ship never reached its destination or arrived 
with blood spattered on the deck and an empty hold. But that 
was the merchant's way, to venture; it was not only his liveli- 
hood but his life. John Johnson, Stapler of Ttador times, speaks 
also for the merchants of the Yorkist and all other ages: *God 
having appointed me to be a merchant ... I am compelled 
to enter into much business, and to take money and much 
things in hand. ... If it please God, I may live to see the 
end. If not, his Will be done, for I make no other reckoning, 


supposing not to displease God to be occupied while I am here 
in that which is my calling. . . .' 

From 1449 until 1475, except for brief intervals of truce, 
England was at war with France. An enemy even more to be 
feared at sea was the Hanseatic League; a long history of 
quarrels ended in the rupture of relations in 1468, following 
which the Easterlings carried on an intense and all too suc- 
cessful naval war with the English until 1474. After King Ed- 
ward made peace with the Hanse in that year and signed the 
Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI the following summer, Eng- 
lish foreign trade began to soar. 

The merchant's greatest enemy remained the pirate, though 
there is nothing very distinctive about piracy during the York- 
ist Age. It had flourished hi the fourteenth century and it 
would go on flourishing under the Tudors. During the fifteenth 
century piracy reached its apogee of success during the last 
bad years of Henry VI; the failure of Henry's government to 
keep the seas and the ill-concealed partnership between some 
of Henry's lords and pirate chieftains drove the merchants of 
the realm into the arms of the Yorkists. The coasts of England 
and the Low Countries and France and Spain all harboured 
pirates; but the Celts had raised the occupation to a fine art. 
The indefatigable Breton sea-thieves of St. Malo zealously vied 
for leadership with their Cornish brothers of Polruan and St. 
Ives and, above all, Fowey. A Cornish gentleman might be a 
Justice of the Peace and a considerable land owner in his 
region, but he could hardly regard himelf as respectable un- 
less he possessed shares in a piratical balinger or two. The 
system which enabled pirates to thrive despite commissions 
of enquiry, commands to arrest goods and persons, and orders 
for restitution, is writ large in the records of Henry VTs col- 
lapsing government 

On December 7, 1451, a Gascon squire, associated with 
four merchants of Bristol, freighted The Kateryn of Bayonne 
with wine, iron, saffron, ivory, and other merchandise. Cov- 
ered by letters of safe-conduct from Henry VI, The Kateryn 
made a good voyage despite wintry seas and on Christmas 
Eve lay off St. Ives, A piratical pinnace, also called The 
Kateryn, promptly put out from town, captured The Kateryn 


supposing not to displease God to be occupied while I am here 
in that which is my calling. . . .' 

From 1449 until 1475, except for brief intervals of trace, 
England was at war with France. An enemy even more to be 
feared at sea was the Hanseatic League; a long history of 
quarrels ended in the rupture of relations in 1468, following 
which the Easterlings carried on an intense and all too suc- 
cessful naval war with the English until 1474. After King Ed- 
ward made peace with the Hanse in that year and signed the 
Treaty of Picquigny with Louis XI the following summer, Eng- 
lish foreign trade began to soar. 

The merchant* s greatest enemy remained the pirate, though 
there is nothing very distinctive about piracy during the York- 
ist Age. It had flourished in the fourteenth century and it 
would go on flourishing under the Tudors. During the fifteenth 
century piracy reached its apogee of success during the last 
bad years of Henry VI; the failure of Henry's government to 
keep the seas and the ill-concealed partnership between some 
of Henry's lords and pirate chieftains drove the merchants of 
the realm into the arms of the Yorkists. The coasts of England 
and the Low Countries and France and Spain all harboured 
pirates; but the Celts had raised the occupation to a fine art. 
The indefatigable Breton sea-thieves of St. Malo zealously vied 
for leadership with their Cornish brothers of Polruan and St 
Ives and, above all, Fowey. A Cornish gentleman might be a 
Justice of the Peace and a considerable land owner hi his 
region, but he could hardly regard himelf as respectable un- 
less he possessed shares in a piratical balinger or two. The 
system which enabled pirates to thrive despite commissions 
of enquiry, commands to arrest goods and persons, and orders 
for restitution, is writ large in the records of Henry VTs col- 
lapsing government 

On December 7, 1451, a Gascon squire, associated with 
four merchants of Bristol, freighted The Kateryn of Bayonne 
with wine, iron, saffron, ivory, and other merchandise. Cov- 
ered by letters of safe-conduct from Henry VI, The Kateryn 
made a good voyage despite wintry seas and on Christmas 
Eve lay off St. Ives. A piratical pinnace, also called The 
Kateryn, promptly put out from town, captured The Kateryn 


of Bayonne as she lay peacefully at anchor, took her into the 
harbour and despoiled her of the cargo. One of the Bristol 
merchants, William Joyce, who was on board and witnessed 
the piracy, hurried off to Lostwithiel, showed the ship's safe- 
conduct to the sheriff in the shire hall and demanded that it 
be publicly read. An influential man in West Cornwall, Rich- 
ard Penpons, Justice of the Peace, then came forward and 
observed quietly that the letters of safe-conduct had not been 
properly drawn up and that the ship had been lawfully seized. 
Penpons, of course, was the principal owner of The Kateryn 
of St. Ives. 

It took Joyce five years to secure a hearing in Chancery, 
and even then he did not dare to mention Richard Penpons, 
who appears to have been a stalwart Lancastrian, and the case 
came to nothing. The accession of Edward IV to the throne 
in 1461 seemingly gave Joyce his opportunity; by December 
of that year he had procured an inquiry into the case, and in 
August of 1462 Henry Bodrugan and other officers, accom- 
panied by Joyce, moved on St. Ives to arrest the pirates. But 
these worthies, incited by Penpons, suddenly issued forth in 
such warlike array that Joyce and Bodrugan fled for their 
lives, pursued for ten miles. The Bristol merchant was so an- 
gered by this treatment that, hi a third bill, he finally ventured 
to accuse Penpons directly. Now become a good Yorkist and 
again Justice of the Peace, Richard Penpons answered stoutly, 
as he had a decade before, that the safe-conduct did not pro- 
tect the ship; and it appears that Joyce, for all his years of 
labour, received neither justice nor his goods. One of the com- 
missioners who had been appointed to inquire into the case 
of The Kateryn of Bayonne, Thomas Bodulgate, was a great 
landholder, a friend of Penpons, and an enterprising pirate. 

Both Edward IV and Richard O took measures to check 
the evil, and sea traffic became safer than it had been in Henry 
VTs last years; but Cornish piracy still had a long history be- 
fore it. 

As far as English merchants, and Englishmen generally, 
were concerned, aliens who came into the realm to make their 
homes or to trade or even to visit, were hardly less objection- 
able than pirates. The nascent nationalism of the fifteenth cen- 


tury generated a dislike of foreigners in all European coun- 
tries; but by common consent xenophobia flourished in 
England as it did nowhere else, for the English were regarded 
as more set in their prejudices and more arrogant in then- na- 
tional pride than any other people on earth. 

The Scots of course did not count as aliens; they were sim- 
ply the enemy a more inimical and personal enemy perhaps 
even than the French, because they looked rather like Eng- 
lishmen and dared to use a language that parodied the noble 
English tongue. All over the north parts of the realm and even 
as far south as Norwich, the bitterest slander that could be 
hurled against a man was to call him a Scot The records of 
the city of York buzz with indignant complaints against 'chil- 
dren of iniquity' who have defamed a true-born Englishman 
by noising it abroad that he came from over the border. John 
Harrington, the town clerk, was so exercised by this outra- 
geous accusation, brought against him by Thomas Wharfe, 
that he hastened to solicit testimonials from Sir John Ashe, 
Lady Fitzhugh, Sir John Conyers, and Sir Robert Harrington 
that he was no false Scot'. Tf this slanderous report,* Ashe 
wrote fiercely, 'come to the ears of some young men of the 
blood that he [Harrington] is of, it will grieve them, I doubt 
not, which I pray you desire the said Thomas Wharfe to re- 

Aliens domiciled in England were no less disliked than tran- 
sients. Beginning with the reign of Edward ffl, many Flemings 
had settled in the realm to ply their clever fingers at the loom. 
Villages and towns of East Anglia had their 'alien quarters', 
where men said brod instead of bread and case instead of 
cheese and sometimes received hard looks from their fellow- 
townsmen. Journeymen were always grumbling against the 
competition of domiciled aliens, and the masters of the jour- 
neymen complained just as bitterly, for somewhat different 
reasons. A petition of 1514 strikes the customary note: the 
realm 'is so inhabited with a great multitude of needy people, 
strangers of divers nations, that your liege people . . . cannot 
imagine nor tell ... what occupation they shall use to put 
their children'. Tlie Cordwainers of London, their hearts 
wrung because their countrymen wore shoddy shoes not man- 


ufactured by themselves, expressed 'ruth and pity ... to see 
great loss and decaying of all the king's subjects of this realm 
that have the use and wearing of such false stuff 5 . 

Sometimes these men and women trying to make a new life 
for themselves and their children in the green, prosperous 
land of England received worse than harsh glances and verbal 
drubbings. When agents of Warwick the Kingmaker, in 1468, 
were rousing the anger of London artisans against Edward 
IVs ally, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, a group of citizen- 
conspirators planned to cross the Thames in boats under cover 
of darkness in order to visit their wrath upon the Flemings; 
and only the last-minute discovery of the plot prevented an 
orgy of thumb-cutting (head-chopping, some said) in South- 
wark. In the autumn of 1470 and again in May of 1471, Kent- 
ish supporters of the Earl of Warwick stormed into Southr 
wark, maltreated Flemish and Dutch weavers and burned their 

Foreign ambassadors sometimes discovered that diplomatic 
courtesies did not extend beyond the royal court. Though Eng- 
land and France were supposed to be the best of friends in 
1478, Louis XTs envoy, the Bishop of Elne, had such a har- 
rowing experience that at moments, he afterwards declared, 
he almost despaired of his life. Some of his troubles, It may 
be, stemmed from the rough English humour of the day rather 
than from malice. 

Whenever the Bishop or one of his retinue ventured from 
their lodgings, a crowd collected to yell Trench dogs!* and 
jeer him on his way. More irascible Londoners shouted that 
the ambassador was no better than a French spy who ought 
to be drowned in the river, and they raised such a clamour 
that King Edward had to put the most obstreperous of them 
under arrest. But even when the Bishop of Elne followed the 
royal Court to Windsor, he did not find peace. One day the 
villagers, raising the old cry of Trench dogsF, made a rush 
at some of his servants. In the riot that followed a royal archer 
seized a club and brained a Frenchman with a blow that 
stretched him senseless on the ground for more than an hour. 
Edward offered to have the archer's offending hand cut off, 
but the Bishop vetoed the punishment doubtless wisely on 


the grounds that the King of France would not like it. By the 
ambassador's own confession, every time thereafter that he 
saw an Englishman touch a bow, he thought his last moment 
had arrived 

Even the King was not above enjoying himself at the ex- 
pense of the somewhat timorous Bishop. On one occasion he 
drew my Lord of Elne aside and inquired innocently if it 
were true, as a herald of his had just reported on returning 
from France, that King Louis was looking forward to the 
Bishop's arrival in order to cut off his head. The ambassador 
summoned enough dignity to reply that people who told tales 
like that were 'mauvais gens'. Edward pushed the joke still 
further by urging the Bishop to run no risks and promising to 
take good care of him if he sought asylum in the realm. 
When the envoy answered tartly that ft he wanted to fly from 
France he would choose some other land than England, King 
Edward was so delighted with the retort that he sent the 
Comptroller of the Household to offer Louis' ambassador a 
present of 2,000 crowns for his expenses which the Bishop 
had to refuse for fear of what his suspicious master might 
thmlr about it Even a diplomatic envoy enjoyed no immunity 
from the prejudices of the populace. But then, the Bishop of 
Elne was a Frenchman. 

Alien merchants were regarded with suspicion, disdain, and 
righteous indignation. The English, reported the Venetian 
diplomat, 'have an antipathy to foreigners, and imagine that 
they never come into their island but to make themselves mas- 
ters of it and to usurp their goods'. Six decades before, The 
Libelle of Engfysche Polycye had thundered: 

And thus they would, if ye will so believe, 
Wipe our nose with our own sleeve! 

Native complaints parliamentary and municipal and individ- 
ualagainst aliens and their practices ran the gamut of com- 
mercial perfidy. 

The most welcome, or better, the least unpopular, were 
probably the Easterlings. The citizens of York disliked them 
because they rode about smelling out bargains and trying to 
onload their Teutonic wares upon the northern markets; but 


then the men of York were a conservative lot The Merchant 
Adventurers of London bore the Hanse traders a bitter grudge 
and had long quarrelled with them because the Hanseatie 
League refused to accord to the Adventurers in German 
towns the same privileges that the Easterlings enjoyed at then- 
Steelyards in London and Boston; but London merchants 
were the only really steadfast supporters of the sea-war with 
the Hanse, 1468-74. Otherwise, the Easterlings were quite 
cheerfully tolerated. The goods they brought into the realm 
like timber and pitch and potash and cables were all useful 
materials and they were cheap. Secondly, the Germans 
bought cloth for export from all parts of the realm; and 
whereas the Merchant Adventurers had to send mostly unfin- 
ished cloth to the Low Countries, the Easterlings provided 
work for English dyers and shearmen by purchasing quanti- 
ties of finished cloths to be disseminated over Europe as far 
as Novgorod. When the royal Council broke with the Hanse 
in 1468, artisans of Gloucester and other towns petitioned in 
the Easterlings' behalf. 

The greatest volume of animus was called forth by the 
trader of Italy. As far as the English were concerned, the 
only good Italian was the Italian who remained at home; and 
even he would probably rob you when you made a pilgrimage 
to Rome. The Staplers and the Merchant Adventurers heartily 
disliked those dark-eyed, saturnine strangers, mounted on 
sleek horses, who rode through the Cotswolds buying up the 
best wool or halted in Wiltshire and Hampshire villages to 
purchase the best white broadcloths. Old Richard Cdy 
gloomily wrote to his son George, in October of 1480, 1 have 
not bought this year a lock of wool, for the wool of Cotswdki 
is bought by Lombards. . . / Londoners also grumbled 
against the Italian brokers of Lombard Street 

In the 1450's English merchants had bitterly resented the 
Italian factors of Henry VTs favourites, who had secured for 
themselves all sorts of fat pickings. Feelings grew so hot that 
in 1456 an incident between a mercer's boy and an Italian 
led to a violent riot; the following year the city's wrath boiled 
up again, and mobs plundered numerous Lombard dwellings. 
Not long after, the Earl of Warwick, Captain of Calais, made 


himself very popular in the capital by dispatching a small 
fleet to sail up the Thames and capture at Tilbury three ves- 
sels which Italians, with special royal licences, were loading 
with wool and cloth. 

The merchants of Italy stirred English ire in general be- 
cause they brought into the realm expensive luxury goods 
which tended to corrupt the native character and in exchange 
for these fripperies they bore away honest wool and cloth 
and gold. The Libclle protested against 

Apes, japes, and marmosets tailed, 

Nifles, trifles that little have availed, 

And other things with which they blear our eye. . . . 

The Italian merchants, it was devoutly believed, practiced all 
kinds of frauds to do the native competitor in the eye. They 
bribed wool-packers to beard and clack wool, and thus fur- 
ther undermined English character. They paid in ready money 
for the best cloths and wools, quickly sold them for cash at a 
five per cent loss, and then lent that cash to English merchants 
at exorbitant rates of interest. They foregathered in each 
other's lodgings, driving secret bargains to the destruction of 
native traders; they dawdled in the country selling goods, 
which they were forbidden to do; and whereas they were sup- 
posed to export wool only through the 'Straits of Marrock', 
they fraudulently secured licences to ship to the Low Coun- 
tries and there competed with the Staplers. 

The Commons of Parliament inveighed against all these 
nefarious transactions and tried, in vain, to erect a wall of 
prohibitions. Transient aliens were given a limited number 
of days in which to complete their business in England, and 
they were forbidden to sell at retail. Prohibited from taking 
gold out of the realm, they were required instead to buy 
English goods with the moneys they received for then* wares. 
In order that their transactions with each other might be 
scrutinized, they were ordered to *go to hosf , that is, to live 
in the houses of English merchants, who were empowered 
to oversee all their dealings. 

When the Commons 3 of Richard HTs Parliament of 1484 

The terms *House of Commons* and 'House of Lords' did not come 
into use until the next century. 


drew up a very strong petition against The Merchants of 
Italy', however, the king and his advisers attached an impor- 
tant condition 'Provided alway that this act ... in no wise 
extend . . . any let, hurt, or impediment to any artificer or 
merchant stranger of what nation or country he be ... for 
bringing into this realm, or selling by retail or otherwise, of 
any manner books written or imprinted, or for the inhabit- 
ing within the said realm for the same intent, or to any writer, 
limner, binder, or imprinter of such books, as he hath or 
shall have to sell by way of merchandise. . . .* To King Rich- 
ard and his counsellors goes the honour of having devised the 
first piece of legislation to foster the art of printing and the 
dissemination of books. 

The Parliamentary Commons of Edward IV and Richard 
DDE and Henry VH busied themselves with all manner of 
economic legislation. When the Duke of Burgundy forbade 
the importation of English cloth into his dominions, the 
Commons retaliated with an embargo on manufactured arti- 
cles from the Low Countries; at the request of the 'gentle- 
women of London' who held a virtual monopoly in England 
of the manufacture of silk goods, they repeatedly forbade the 
importation of competing articles from abroad; and when 
they feared for the noble sport of archery, they required 
aliens to import a certain number of bow-staves with all other 
merchandise. They passed a multiplicity of regulations in an 
endeavour to regulate domestic prices and set standards of 
quality for the staples of living like bread and ale, and they 
enacted numerous statutes designed to prevent fraudulent 
practices in the production of cloth. But this legislative tink- 
ering with the economy could not be closely enforced and 
was probably not always helpful. The merchant class had to 
petition Richard m to annul an act against deceitful dyeing 
and stretching of cloth because the bOI had done more harm 
than good. 

In these Parliaments there sat a group of men who strongly 
stamped the period with their attitudes and activities and 
who, with townsmen and gentry, were coming to dominate 
England in the Yorkist Age. These members of Parliament 
belonged to the professional classes, drawn in their increasing 


numbers from the town oligarchies and from yeomen and 
country gentlemen. They had common aspirations and a com- 
mon bond of education and outlook, for most of them were 
lawyers or had been trained in the law at one of the Inns of 
Court or Chancery. 

As a result of the decline of the Church, the spread of edu- 
cation, and the rise of the middle classes, the lay lawyer and 
civil servant and estate-supervisor of the fifteenth century re- 
placed the mediaeval clerk as the managing force of the realm. 
One reason why the Yorkists triumphed and Edward IV could 
begin building a nation-state was that a strong central authority 
suited the interests and the talents of these men. 4 

The professional classes (an awkward but inevitable term) 
had, in the reign of Henry VI, begun sitting in Parliament 
for towns and boroughs which, out of indifference or poverty 
or a desire for a strong voice at Westminster, were willing to 
choose them as representatives instead of their own citizens. 
Cities like London and York and Bristol and Nottingham 
still elected fellow-townsmen, whom they honoured and paid 
well and who were the chief spokesmen for the trading in- 

* It has been remarked that the Commons of Edward IVs Parliaments 
were much more docile than those of the preceding Lancastrian era. 
This so-called docility, however, seems to have at least partly repre- 
sented a genuine satisfaction with the executive. Lancastrian Parliaments 
had clamoured for reform of the government, resumption of royal lands 
alienated by Henry VTs feckless generosity, reduction of debt and bet- 
ter management of finances. The government of Edward IV applied itself 
with marked success to all these problems. 

Historians more interested in the past as a seed-time of the future 
rather than as a living entity have accused King Edward of neglecting 
Parliamentary institutions; in fact, though he summoned but six Parlia- 
ments, their sessions extended over more than half the years of his 
reign. Between 1475 and the last assemblage in 1483, Edward held only 
fee brief Parliament of 1478; but to suppose that he was therefore op- 
pressing the realm is to put seventeenth-century ideas into fifteenth- 
cenrary heads. The king was never more popular than during these 
years; and far from yearning to be summoned to Westminster, his peo- 
ple were undoubtedly surprised and grateful that he succeeded in waging 
war with Scotland for three years without asking for a grant of taxes. 
'Money,' remarked Sir Thomas More, *is the only thing that withdraweth 
the hearts of Englishmen from the Prince.' Young John Paston spoke for 
his age when, in March of 1473, he wrote to his brother Sir John, rep- 
resenting Yarmouth in Parliament, 'I pray God send you the Holy Ghost 
among you in the Parliament House, and rather the Devil, we say, than 
ye should grant any more taxes.* 


terests; but places like Ipswich one of its representatives in 
1469 had agreed to sit for nothing if given the freedom of 
the townand smaller boroughs were glad to be canvassed by 
ambitious 'outsiders' country gentlemen or London lawyers 
or estate-managers of great lords or civil servants or members 
of the royal household. In 1463 John Sackville, Esquire, 
agreed to sit for Weymouth in return for a barrel of mackerel 
delivered at Christmas; a member for Dunwich accepted his 
salary in herrings; other representatives received no fee at all. 

Professional men had discovered that a seat in Parliament 
offered them the opportunity to make worthwhile contacts, 
to render good service to the King or to a patron, to exert 
influence, and perhaps, since increasing numbers of Parlia- 
mentary petitions, drawn up in the form of bills, were being 
presented for the approval of Commons, to earn a little money 
or good will in putting such petitions in proper form. While 
the more important royal officials usually sought election as 
Knight of the Shire, the smaller fry found places for them- 
selves in borough representation. In the latter years of Henry 
VI and during the reign of Edward IV fewer than a third of 
the boroughs sent two of their own citizens to Parliament 
In 1478, 17 per cent of the Commons consisted of careerists 
in the royal service, and more than two-thirds of the 
boroughs returned one or two outsiders. This revolution in 
the composition of the Commons marched side by side with a 
managerial revolution; the essential tone of Tudor government 
was already sounding in the Yorkist Age. 

The official world of clerkdom was no longer the domain 
of the Church. Clerks of the Privy Seal, clerks to the Signet, 
clerks of the Exchequer and in the Chancery were drawn in- 
creasingly from the ambitious middle ranks of laymen. Early 
in the century Thomas Hoccleve, continually scribbling 
complaints about his salary and achieving no more than a cor- 
rody at the end of his service, did not fare very well; but many 
who followed him won annuities from the King or the band 
of a royal ward (a minor heiress) and ended their careers 
as landed squires. Conversely, landed squires, seeing the re- 
wards to be won in the service of a king or a great lord, be- 
came clerks and estate-managers. William Marchall, a clerk 


in the Chancery, owned property at Standlake and Wood- 
stock, Oxfordshire, and doubtless signed himself 'gentleman'. 
Peter Idley, a squire of the same county, moved upward 
through the royal service from Bailiff of the Honour of 
Wallingford to Gentleman Falconer to the King and Under- 
Keeper of the Royal Mews and Falcons, and from that sport- 
ing post advanced to become Comptroller of the King's Works 
throughout the realm. The chief clerkship of the Treasury 
was now held by a knight, frequently a man of legal training, 
who during the reign of Edward IV usually sat at the royal 
Council board. 

This development of a lay professional class is symbolized 
by the changing status of tie King's secretary. A compara- 
tively minor official under the Lancastrians, he became an 
officer of great importance in Edward IVs reign, for Edward 
made extensive use of the Signet Seal which was operated by 
the secretary. Richard ffl's secretary and councillor John 
Kendall, 5 once a Yeoman of the Chamber, achieved a 
prominence in the government foreshadowing the elevation 
of Henry VIII's secretary, Thomas Cromwell, to the position 
of First Minister, formerly held by the Chancellor. 

The management of finances through the King's Chamber, 
more flexible and efficient than the Exchequer, and the pay- 
ment of receipts from the royal domain into the Chamber- 
administrative techniques often ascribed to the Tudors were 
solidly established by the Yorkist kings. The old royal do- 
main, the Duchy of Lancaster, and the great confiscated 
properties like the Clarence lands were put in the charge of 
professional receivers, auditors and surveyors. These experts 
in land management rode all over England on regular circuits, 
probably a book of Chaucer or Lydgate or The Dictes and 
Sayings of the Philosophers or Tully of Old Age in their sad- 
dle bags and the hope of retiring as a gentleman upon land 
in their hearts. Lords and gentry, eager to increase then* rent- 
rolls and improve their household accounting, likewise offered 
posts to the professional classes. For the office of Clerk of the 
kitchen in the Household of Lord Hastings, Governor of 

5 For an account of the role lie played, see P. M. Kendall, Richard 
the Third. 


Calais, young John Paston recommended his friend Richard 
Stratton as 'well witted, well mannered, a goodly young man 
on horse and foot; he is well spoken in English, meetly well 
in French, and very perfect in Flemish; he can write and read 
[i.e., Latin]'. 

The Paston letters offer the fullest picture of members of 
the professional class in the service of the gentry. Richard 
Calle, John Daubeney, and John Pampyng worked loyally 
and, it appears, efficiently for the Pastons as estate-managers, 
advisers, and, on occasion, as warriors; and, it must be ad- 
mitted, not one of them received the full measure of his de- 
serts from the Paston family. Richard Calle, chief steward and 
receiver, held manor courts hi defiance of threats and vio- 
lence, was more than once roughly handled in the streets of 
Norwich because of his devotion to Paston interests, and yet 
found himself bitterly estranged from the Pastons because he 
dared to seek a wife in the family. The affairs of John Dau- 
beney, killed at the siege of Caister, were so ill looked after 
by Sir John Paston that young John wrote in shame to remind 
his brother of their obligation. Brave and faithful John 
Pampyng disappeared from Sir John Paston's service without 
receiving the smallest annuity or even a word of commenda- 

Battling to protect the Paston estates, John Pampyng risked 
assault and endured imprisonment. He reveals his life in a 
letter he wrote to John Paston, senior, in which he describes 
his attempt to come to terms with Justice Yelverton and Jus- 
tice Jenney, who were forcibly encroaching on manors 
claimed by the Pastons: To speak with them as ye com- 
manded me, I tarried not but rode to Ipswich to my bed; and 
there at The Sun was the said Yelverton and Jenney and 
Thomas Fastolfe; and mine host told me that the same after- 
noon they had been at Nakton, but what they did there I 
cannot tell; and when I was understood (to be) your man, 
Hogon, Jenney's man, asked surety of peace of me; and Jenney 
sent for an officer to have had me to prison; and so mine host 
undertook for me that night And this day in the morning I 
went to St. Laurence's Church; and there I spake to them 
and told them ye marvelled that they would take any distress 


or warn any of your tenants that they should pay you no 
money. And Yelverton said ye had taken a distress falsely 
and untruly of him. . . . And he said he was enfeoffed as 
well as ye; and as for that, I told him he wost other [knew 
otherwise] . . . and so I told him that he should be served 
the same within few days. And he said . . . if ye took upon 
you to make any trouble in his land ye shall repent it. ... 
And so I am with the gaoler, with a clog upon mine heel for 
surety of the peace; wherefore please your mastership to send 
me your advice* a very modest request! 

Even after they had valiantly defended Caister against the 
besieging force of the 'Duke of Norfolk, the Paston stalwarts 
had no assurance of continued employment. Young John 
Paston, trying to discover his older brother's intentions, 
wrote fervently, *By my troth, they are as good men's bodies 
as any alive, and specially Sir John Stille [a chaplain] and 
John Pampyng. And [if] I were of power to keep them . . . 
by troth they should never depart from me while I lived.* 
But Sir John Paston had a gift for choosing rascally servants 
who deserted him on a minute's notice and for failing to cher- 
ish the men who had propped the Paston fortunes. Two years 
after the siege of Caister, Margaret Paston was urging young 
John to move [Sir John] to take John Pampyng to him, or 
else to get him a service in the chancery, or in some other 
place where he might be preferred, for it is pity that he loseth 
his time so here. . . .' She added, 'For divers other things 
which ye shall know hereafter I would that he were hence in 
haste.* This veiled remark, when coupled with what Sir John 
wrote two years after (1473), suggests that Margaret Paston 
was thinking of more than Pampyng's welfare. Her younger 
daughter, Anne, had ventured, like her elder, Margery, to 
fall in love with a man who had shown himself leal and in- 
trepid in the family service. But she was not to be permitted 
to follow her ungrateful sister's path. To heal the quarrel 
between Yelverton and Paston, Anne was betrothed to Jus- 
tice Yelverton's grandson. John Pampyng had become an 
embarrassment if not a danger. 'Item,* Sir John wrote to his 
mother from London, *I pray you take good heed to my sister 
Anne, lest the old love atween her and Pampyng renew.' John 


Pampyng thereupon disappears from the lives of the Pastons, 
in these words of Sir John's: 'Among all other things, I pray 
you beware that the old love of Pampyng renew not He is 
now from me; I wot not what he will do. No more.* 

As for lawyers, they thrived in this litigious age. Clement 
Paston laid the foundations of his family's fortune when he 
borrowed money to send his son William to one of the fans 
of Court; and young John Paston, educated probably at Cam- 
bridge and at one of the Inns, re-edified that fortune when 
he became chief councillor of the Earl of Oxford. It is nota- 
ble, too, that when the Mayor of Canterbury was pressing 
his suit in London against the Prior of Christ Church he was 
always having to send messengers into the country in order to 
consult with his counsel; the London lawyers retained by 
Canterbury apparently all owned manors to which they re- 
tired as often as possible. 

Instead of seeking a royal office or taking the livery of a 
lord or knight or rising in the legal profession itself to become 
a Serjeant-at-law and perhaps a Justice, a lawyer might make 
a distinguished career for himself as the Recorder of a town 
or even as town clerk. Harry Butler and John Dudley, suc- 
cessive Recorders of Coventry, were figures of national 
prominence. Miles Metcalfe, Recorder of York, was rich 
enough to contribute 100 when the city was collecting money 
to give a present to Richard IE and was so beloved by the 
corporation that they defied Henry VII rather than remove 
this devoted adherent of King Richard. Thomas Urswyck, 
Recorder of London, played a decisive part in opening the 
gates of the capital to King Edward in April of 1471, and 
was 'knighted in the field' by Edward in consequence of his 
good services. 

In the Yorkist Age even the more modest post of Town 
Clerk offered attractive rewards and prestige. John Harring- 
ton, Clerk of the Court of Requests-that branch of the royal 
Council which dealt with poor men's causes-served also as 
Town Clerk of York. Cities were everywhere having their 
records re-copied, brought up to date, and maintained in 
greater detail than formerly a process so extensive that paper 
was beginning to replace the more expensive parchment-and 


able lawyers therefore found a ready market for their serv- 
ices. Thomas Caxton, perhaps a brother of William Caxton, 
successively sold his services to Tenterden, Lydd, Romney, 
and Sandwich. Even after he had resigned his office at Lydd, 
the town frequently retained him to conduct its business with 
London or negotiate with the King; and when in 1470 the 
municipality fearfully entangled itself in the Wars of the 
Roses by first sending a troop of men to fight for Warwick 
and then rushing a contingent to the aid of King Edward, 
Thomas Caxton was made treasurer of the town, then bailiff, 
and was given a town clerk of his own training. 

The well-educated layman did not always find the path of 
the professions a smooth climb. Though William Worcester 
subsequently achieved fame as an annalist, his letters to the 
Pastons portray a disillusioned man, ill-rewarded by a hard 
master, Sir John Fastolf e, whom he served long and faithfully 
as secretary. 'And whereas ye of your pleasure write me or 
call me Master Worcester,' he told John Paston, 'I pray and 
require you forget that name of mastership, for I am not 
amended by my master of a farthing in certainty [I receive 
no annuity], but of wages of household in common autant 
comme nous plcdra [being subject to dismissal at his pleas- 
ure] ... I have 5s yearly, all costs borne, to help pay for 
bonnets that I lose. I told so my master this week, and he said 
[to] me yesterday he wished me to have been a priest ... to 
have given me a living. . . . And so I endure inter egenos 
ut servus ad aratrum [among the downtrodden as a slave 
yoked to the plough]. Forgive me, I write to make you 
laugh. . . .' 

Scriveners, whose position was rather low among profes- 
sional ranks, often conducted schools, and a few in London 
apparently published and sold manuscripts on a considerable 
scale; but, like William Worcester, some of them found the 
rewards of education meagre. William Ebesham, who copied 
out books and treatises for Sir John Paston, addressed him 
cm one occasion, 'beseeching you most tenderly to see me 
somewhat rewarded for my labour in the Great Book which 
I wrote [for] your good mastership'. Sir John, always out 
of funds, had apparently fobbed Ebesham off previously by 


asking him to present his bills through John Pampyng: *Z 
have often times written to Pampyng, according to your 
desire, to inform you how I have laboured in writings for you, 
. . . And God knoweth I lie in sanctuary at great costs, and 
amongst right unreasonable askers. . . . And in especial I 
beseech you to send me for alms one of your old gowns. . . . 
I have great myst [need] of it, God knows, whom I beseech 
preserve you from all adversity. I am somewhat acquainted 
with it 9 

Members of the gentry seeking careers and career men ris- 
ing into the gentry had in common not only their ambitions 
and their legal training but also a strong sense of profession. 
A friend of John Paston's, in the course of castigating a Pas- 
ton enemy, remarked, 1 would ye should do well, because 
ye are a fellow of Gray's Inn, where I was a fellow*. A fierce 
pride in the English Common Law and in English parlia- 
mentary and judicial institutions rings through the works of 
Sir John Fortescue. In England, a king dispenses justice 
through judges; he is provided with expert advice by a royal 
council; and only Parliament can make laws. Hence Fortescae 
urged that justices and councillors and royal officers and 
members of Parliament be well-educated in order to preserve 
the unity and liberties of the realm. The Inns of Court pro- 
vided a humane as well as a legal education. Students there 
not only attended sessions at Westminster, disputed points of 
law, and were treated to lectures by the great lawyers of the 
day; but they also read history and literature, became pro- 
ficient in English and French and Latin, and learned 'singing 
and all kinds of music, dancing, and such other accomplish- 
ments as [were] suitable to their quality and such as [were] 
usually practised at court\ 

These professional men, gentry and rising gentry, were a 
bookish lot, the backbone of the readers of the nation, Rich- 
ard Calle lost a French book when Lord Motynes' men plun- 
dered the manor of Gresham. John Pampyng, who dealt with 
Ebesham the scrivener and was regarded by Mai^aret Pastoo 
as fit for a chancery post, must have had soroe interest in 
books. Sir John Paston and young John Paston and Sir John 
Howard, all of whom acted in one capacity or another as 


professional men, were book collectors. Indeed, in the counties 
of Norfolk and Suffolk alone a network of literary patrons 
can be traced, which included Sir John Fastolfe; the de Veres; 
Sir Miles Stapleton; John Denston, coroner of Suffolk and 
J.P.; Sir John Howard's first wife, Katherine; the Lady Isabel 
Bourchier, sister of the Duke of York; Agatha Flegge, wife 
of John Flegge, esquire, of Suffolk; and others. Unfortunately, 
the works they commissioned or encouraged were, none of 
them, written by men of much talent. 

It was not an age of great literature, but pens were busy 
upon paper none the less; and a very considerable number of 
the poems, prose works, and translations which appeared were 
produced by members of the gentry, by professional men, and 
by officers in royal government: 

William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk: author of poems in 

English and French 

John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester: scholarly translator 
Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers: poet and translator 
Sir Thomas Malory: author of Morte <F Arthur 
Peter Idley, Esq.: author of Instructions to His Son 
Stephen Scrope, gentleman: scholar and translator 
Gilbert Banester, poet and musician, Master of the Chil- 
dren of the Chapel Royal, owner of lands and tene- 
ments, 'of East Greenwich, in the County of Kent, 
gentleman': translator of the Tale of Guiscardo and 
Ghisrnonda and composer 

John Metham, *a simple scholar of philosophy' and a 
Cambridge man, probably professionally employed by 
Sir Miles Stapleton: author of various prose works 
and of a poem in rime royal, Amoryus and Cleopes 
John Hardyng, Constable of the Castle of Kyme, em- 
ployed as a diplomatic secret agent: author of Har- 
dyng's Chronicle 

Thomas Hoccleve, Clerk to the Privy Seal: poet 
George Ashby, Clerk to the Signet: poet 
William Gregory, Mayor of London: chronicler 
William Caxton, Merchant Adventurer: writer, trans- 
lator, and printer 


William Worcester, secretary to Sir John Fastolfe: an- 
nalist and historian 

Henry Lovelich, skinner: translator of a poem on Ike 
Holy Grail 

Even when Richard Langport, clerk of the royal Council, 
girded on his harness and rode with Edward IV to fight at 
Towton, he brought at least one book with him, an expensive 
one, and after he lost it on that bloody battlefield, King Ed- 
ward granted him 5 marks in recompense. 

No collection of letters written by a member of the pro- 
fessional classes has survived; and therefore we cannot pry 
intimately into the life, opinions, and operations of a lawyer 
or estate-manager in the same way that we look through the 
window of the Cely letters at a famfly of merchants or live 
with the Stonors and Pastons the lives of the gentry. Fortu- 
nately or unfortunately, the professional man whose career 
has left the most vivid impact in contemporary documents Is a 
magnificent rascal named Richard Heyron. And his complex, 
bizarre story persistently illustrates the co-mingling of like- 
nesses and differences that haunts all comparisons of the fif- 
teenth century with our own age. 

The chronicler Fabyan provides a garbled, fragmentary ver- 
sion of Heyron's history; modern scholars, like Scofield in her 
biography of Edward IV and Power and Postan in Studies in 
English Trade in the Fifteenth Century, have corrected 
Fabyan's errors; but the climax of the tale, buried in dis- 
patches of Milanese ambassadors, remains to be told. 

Richard Heyron is instantly recognizable as the type of 
brilliant and unscrupulous promoter. The intricate mesh of 
dealings, his capacity to inspire trust and find money, his 
knowledge of expedients, his use erf bribery and propaganda 
and legal smoke-screens, his success in keying enterprises to 
great international issues strike at once a familiar note. On 
the other hand, the strings he pulled and the particular meth- 
ods his time offered him will be of no use to his tweatie&- 
century descendants. Sometimes in prison, apparently for loog 
periods holed up in sanctuary, as a wandering exile, he was 


able for twenty-five years and for another five after his death 
to involve in his schemes the Duke of Milan, the Duke of 
Burgundy, the Kings of England and France, Maximilian 
King of the Romans, and Emperor Frederick HI, and the 

Richard Heyron called himself a London Merchant of the 
Staple, but it would be surprising to discover that he had not 
studied law at one of the Trms of Court, for by his legal ma- 
nipulations he made his mark in the world. Fabyan char- 
acterizes him as a 'merchant of pregnant wit and of good 
manner of speech', a description that hardly does justice to 
his ingenuity and plausibility. He makes his first appearance 
in the records at a time well suited to his talents, the confused 
and violent days at the end of the year 1459. 

Driven from England, the Earl of Warwick and the Duke 
of York's son Edward, Earl of March (later Edward IV), 
took refuge early in November at Calais, Warwick's strong- 
hold, where they remained until they triumphantly made good 
their return to the realm in June of 1460. During this interval 
Richard Heyron appeared at Calais, acting as merchant- 
factor and probably legal adviser as well to the Earl of Wilt- 
shire. This wealthy lord, one of the handsomest and most 
hated men in England, prime favourite of Margaret of Anjou, 
had good reason to fear the return of the Yorkists; and in the 
winter of 1459-60 he gathered all the coin, jewels, and costly 
goods he could lay hands on, stuffed them into five hired 
carracks, and sailed to Holland. Heyron's mission at Calais 
was to dispose of an enormous quantity of wool that the Earl 
had somehow come by, a cargo variously estimated to be 
worth 18,000 to 24,000 (something like three-quarters of a 
million in modern money). Since nobody hated the Earl of 
Wiltshire more than Warwick did, Heyron apparently passed 
the wool off as his own, and when the Yorkists turned to the 
Staplers for money, he discreetly offered a loan of 2,000 
marks and 300 sarplers of wool. 

Warwick, however, quickly discovered the truth, probably 
through the Staplers themselves, promptly seized all the wool 
and consigned Heyron to prison. But prisons are not made to 
bold such men as Heyron. He managed to smuggle messages 


out of Calais by means of one of his servants, Richard Copin; 
and when he learned that Copin had been arrested with incrim- 
inating letters on him, Heyron succeeded in escaping from 
Calais and joined the Earl of Wiltshire in Holland. Soon 
after, he proceeded to Bruges and offered the Council of the 
Duke of Burgundy 10,000 crowns (2,000) for letters of 
marque, but Philip the Good, favouring the Yorkists and fear- 
ing the Lancastrians, wanted no part of such a risky pro- 

Undaunted, Heyron not only made his way back to Eng- 
land but apparently avoided the consequences of his associa- 
tion with Wiltshire and his escape from Calais; for in the 
Christmas season of 1460-by which time the Yorkists were 
ruling England in Henry VTs name-he boldly demanded that 
the royal Council force the Staplers to reimburse him for the 
restraints' they had put upon his wool (he could scarcely ac- 
cuse Warwick of having seized it!). The suit was dismissed. 
Within a few months Edward IV was proclaimed King, the 
Lancastrians were crushed at Towton, and the Earl of Wilt- 
shire, captured after the battle, had his head cut off and afl 
his goods confiscated. Heyron promptly brought suit against 
his fellow-merchants before the Council of the new King, 
claiming that the Staplers were responsible for the loss of his 
wool. Again the suit was dismissed, on Hie grounds that the 
wool had been the property of the Earl of Wiltshire and now- 
belonged, like the rest of Wiltshire's possessions, to the King. 
Heyron, his schemes apparently exploded, was sent to prison, 
but he soon escaped to sanctuary and comfortably resumed 

By some means, known only to men like Heynoo, Be man- 
aged to worm himself into the favour of the King's secretary. 
The secretary, doubtless for a good price, procured a docu- 
ment authorizing Heyron under the Kin^s seal to prosecute 
his case against the Staplers in foreign courts. At the same 
time Heyron and his agents were bef oggmg the wbole issue 
by spreading in court circles the story that tbe Staplers were 
accusing the King of fevouring Hebron's cause so that tbe 
Yorkists would not have to pay back what Warwick bad 
wrongfully taken from Heyron, and by sowing rumours in 


the city that the King, angry with the Staplers because they 
had slandered him, meant to support Heyron's case. 

Leaving behind him this miasma of confusion, Heyron with 
his usual facility made his way to the Continent to put his 
precious document to use. In Flanders he procured the arrest 
of three English merchants and sued them and other Staplers 
in the courts of the Duke of Burgundy for the recovery of 
goods that he now valued at 24,000. The Staplers vigorously 
fought the case, however; and after winning a judgement 
against Heyron, they secured a royal edict that Heyron was 
to pursue no further legal action outside the kingdom. 

But Richard Heyron, far from beaten, now transferred his 
activities to France. He always had plenty of money to scat- 
ter in the right places, for his backers stood to win a fortune 
if Heyron could make good his claim; and he understood the 
politics of Europe as well as he understood the art of man- 
aging men. One of the increasing tensions between the Duke 
of Burgundy and his overlord, the King of France, had grown 
out of a dispute over the right of the citizens of Flanders to 
appeal from the ducal courts to the Parlement of Paris. Still 
relying on his fraudulent authority to sue in foreign lands, 
Heyron now took his case to the French Parlement, hoping 
that Louis XI might support him as a means of emphasizing 
his dominion over the Duke. But Louis, ardently seeking the 
friendship of England through the good offices of Warwick, 
allowed the matter to hang fire. Heyron then tried to put pres- 
sure on the French King by turning to the exiled Lancastrians, 
headed by Margaret of Anjou and her shadow-chancellor, 
Sir John Fortescue. In a memorandum drawn up between 
1468 and 1470, Fortescue pointed out to Louis' advisers- 
somewhat cynically that money spent in backing a Lancas- 
trian invasion could be recovered 'by means of a suit that 
Richard Heyron, English, is pursuing in the court of Parle- 
ment, provided that the King is willing to show him favour'. 

Nothing seems to have come of this interesting suggestion, 
tot after Warwick had driven Edward IV from England and 
restored Henry VI to the throne in the autumn of 1470, Rich- 
ard Heyron was probably among the Lancastrian exiles who 
returned to the realm. Before he was able to profit by the 

-i it'L^r^i M *&*$*$ 
Alette* I** tttK*Ki 

rUrS^r ^sw^ntf* 

[21] above, Dick Whittington on his death bed (Worshipful 
Company of Mercers from Foundation Statues of the Whitting- 
ton College Almshouse). 

[22] below, Simon Eyre, Lord Mayor of London (Guildhall 
Library, 15th-century drawing). 

[23] Fan vaulting in King's College Chapel Found- 
ed by Henry VI, supported by Edward IV and Rich- 
ard III (A. F. Kersting, H. 3979) . 

[24] Lavenham Church (C.O.L, D. 44888). 

[25] Monks in choir (B. M. Cott. 
Dom. A XVII f . I22v., from Henry 
VFs Psalter). 

[26] Nuns in choir (B. M. Cott. Dom. A 
XVII f. 177v., from Henry VTs Psalter). 


[28] Working on the manor (French-Radio Times Hulton Pic- 
ture Library). 


Yorkist overthrow, however, Edward had fought the battles 
of Barnet and Tewkesbury (spring of 1471) and regained 
his throne. Heyron once more beat a retreat into sanctuary, 
and this time he remained there, at Westminster or in the 
church of St Martin le Grand, for at least two years, because, 
as will appear later, he negotiated an interesting deal in Lon^ 
don in 1473 and he could hardly have been a free man. 
Through his agents, in the meanwhile, he continued to press 
his suit before the Parlement of Paris; but after King Edward 
and King Louis signed the Treaty of Picquigny in 1475, Parle- 
ment dismissed the action. 

Still able to find resources, Richard Heyron now turned to 
the Pope, for like Sir John Paston he knew that the Roman 
Curia sold ointments for many sores. King Edward's proctor 
at the Vatican was able to block Heyron's appeal, however, 
and he was informed that he must reopen his case in England. 
Meanwhile Parliament, in 1478, ordered proclamation to be 
made in London that Heyron must 'surcease* his suits against 
the Staplers in foreign courts on pain of outlawry and con- 
fiscation of goods. 

Heyron's answer to this apparently crushing reverse was to 
betake himself to Rome with a full purse. And despite the 
original Papal refusal to act and the operations of King Ed- 
ward's proctor and the decree of the Frgi>> Parliament, 
Heyron succeeded in obtaining from Pope Sixtus IV, in No- 
vember of 1480, a Bull which upheld his claims against the 
Staplers and threatened them with excommunication if they 
did not do him justice. When the Celys* friend Sir John Wes- 
ton, Prior of the Order of St John, was sent by King Edward 
the following year as ambassador to the Vatican, one of his 
missions was to persuade the Apostolic See to abandon Rich- 
ard Heyron. Weston exposed Heyron's train of chicaneries; 
but, as he wrote to George Cely, he found the indomitable 
Heyron strongly entrenched in papal favour: *I promise you, 
he is greatly favoured and he would have made a foul work 
and [if] remedy had not soon been found.* 

Finally in February of 1482 King Edward and his CouacS, 
heartily weary of the matter, drew up a long statement of 
Heyron's fraudulent procedures and ordained his case dosed 


unless he sought a hearing in England. This pronouncement 
and Weston's mission put paid to Heyron's hopes of winning 
the Wiltshire gold at the end of the rainbow. Fabyan com- 
pletes the story by declaring that the Staplers 'purchased an 
absolution' from the Pope and that Richard Heyron 'after 
long being in Westminster as a sanctuary man, without recov- 
ery of his costs or duty, died there, being greatly indebted unto 
many persons'. 

The first part of the statement may well be true, and there 
is no reason to doubt that Heyron was greatly indebted to the 
speculators who backed him; but he did not die a sanctuary 
man in Westminster. 

Dispatches of Milanese ambassadors reveal that even while 
Richard Heyron was driving on his suits against the Staplers, 
he had managed to lay hands on another obligation of 
grandiose proportions. In 1473, while he was sheltering hi a 
London sanctuary, he secured from a man named John Wodye 
a deed that empowered him to collect an international debt 
which had been outstanding for half a century and which, 
though it certainly looked fishy, had stirred up a good deal of 
trouble. Back in 1406 Edmund Holland, Earl of Kent, in 
marrying Lucia Visconti, a daughter of the Duke of Milan, 
had been promised a dowry of 70,000 florins, guaranteed by 
the merchant community of the city. According to the story 
Wodye famished Heyron, the dowry was never paid; when 
Lucia died a widow in 1424 she appointed William Anderby 
and Thomas Huyvet her executors; and when William An- 
derby, outliving Huyvet, died in 1461, he appointed John 
Woyde his executor. By virtue of this appointment, Wodye, 
claiming that the Duke of Mflan owed him 70,000 florins, 
was able to purchase letters of marque against the merchants 
of Milan and of Genoa (ruled by Milan). By this time all the 
Viscontis had sunk into the grave. The great Francesco Sf orza, 
now ruling Milan, complained to Edward IV in 1464 that as 
a result of Wodye's trouble-making Milanese and Genoese 
traders had almost ceased doing business in England. When 
Warwick restored Henry VI in 1470, the merchants of Milan 
petitioned Sf orza's son to ask King Henry to annul the letters 
of marque, on account of which they had 'suffered great 


losses in England*. The Duke therefore requested Louis XI, 
Warwick's ally, to use his influence in the matter, but Edward 
IV had regained his throne before anything could be done. 

As soon as the Wiltshire case was finally quashed in 1482, 
Richard Heyron turned with undiminished zest and ingenu- 
ity, and apparently undiminished funds, to prosecuting the 
Wodye claim upon the Visconti dowry. By this time he must 
have been a man well up in years. In England be was out- 
lawed; he had been expelled from the dominions of the Duke 
of Burgundy for debt; he no longer dared set foot in France; 
he had been unmasked at the Papal court He therefore trans- 
ferred his operations to the Holy Roman Empire, settling at 
Speyer. By this time his two chief agents were his nephew, 
John Skiby, *well versed in his manners', and one John Rayn- 
old, who claimed to be 'citizen and merchant of England 7 
but who was probably an inhabitant of Metz. According to 
one of the diplomats of the Duke of Milan, Raynold was as 
slippery a customer as Heyron: he 'could not venture himself 
in England or Flanders owing to his malpractices*. Among 
other exploits, he had gulled credulous folk who believed the 
rumours that Duke Charles of Burgundy, killed at Nancy is 
1477, was still alive and would one day reappear, 'and by 
such practices he lived for ten years*. 

Richard Heyron could hardly have invented an Emperor 
more suitable to his purpose than Frederic EOL Througjioat 
his long and inglorious reign he had showed himself mean, 
shifty, avaricious, and perennially impecunious. As Com- 
mynes put it, He endured everything in order to spend no&r 
ing.' There was little in the way of parchment sealed that 
could not be secured, for a fee, from the Imperial court, and 
Richard Heyron was still able to find money and reach the 
right pockets to put it into. On September 9, 1484, the Em- 
peror dispatched letters to the Kings of France, Spain, Eng- 
land, Portugal, Bohemia, and Denmark, requesting them to 
aid Richard Heyron, the legitimate heir of Lucia ViseonU, 
who had petitioned the Emperor for justice in his strugge to 
secure payment of the Visconti dowry. Though such letters 
had far less force, and were much less expensive, than letters 
of marque, they may have enabled Heyron to exact some 


reprisals against Milanese merchants; for six years later, the 
Duke of Milan was complaining to the King of England that 
traders of Milan continued to be molested. But before Rich- 
ard Heyron could develop grander plans or enjoy much benefit 
from the Imperial letters, he died at Speyer 'miserably at 
the hospital*, according to a Milanese ambassador on August 
14, 1485, as Richard ni and Henry Tudor were marching 
towards Bosworth Field. 

Even Heyron's ghost, however, was powerful enough to 
trouble international politics. He bequeathed the claim upon 
the Visconti dowry to his associates, John Raynold and John. 
Skiby, who for the next five years made themselves as thor- 
ough nuisances as ever Heyron had done. Twice rebuffed by 
the Duke of Milan, Raynold and Skiby had raised enough 
money by September of 1490 to secure letters patent from 
the Emperor authenticating the claims of the heirs of Richard 
Heyron and authorizing reprisals against the subjects of the 
Duke of Milan. Not many weeks later, the Count Palatine 
and the Margrave of Baden seized Milanese cargoes being 
freighted down the Rhine and cast then* owners into prison. 
It was a fleeting moment of triumph. After a flurry of inter- 
national diplomatic correspondence, King Henry VTI took 
the merchants of Milan under his protection and requested 
the Emperor and his German princelings to give no aid to 
Heyron's heirs, who, if they had a case, must bring it into 
English courts. There the tale of highly resourceful means 
applied to even more highly doubtful ends comes to a con- 
clusion. Richard Heyron was undoubtedly a most charming 
and persuasive man who made love to the occupation he chose 
for himself. He would have gone far, though he might not 
have achieved such fame, if he had taken service with King 
Louis XI of France. 



SUBSTANTIAL townsmen and the gentry were interpenetrating 
each other's lives in increasing numbers, even as within their 
own ranks they were showing an increasing variety of degree 
and status. 'Substantial townsmen' include a Mayor of London 
knighted by the King, an alderman and draper of Coventry 
whose income equalled that of a squire of the royal household, 
a tailor of Winchester worth no more than <20 who had 
managed to secure a post as 'customer* in the port of South- 
ampton and thus wrote himself 'gentleman*. The elastic term 
gentry now covered a social span from peasant-yeomen to 
cadets and female lines of the nobility and embraced sons of 
merchants settled on land, lawyers or auditors of mean stock 
who had purchased country property, knigjhts and squires trac- 
ing (somewhat vaguely) from the Conquest, and a man like 
Sir John Howard, related to the Mowbray Dukes of Norfolk, 
who was wealthier and more influential than many barons. 

Merchants were buying land to found a family based on 
the gentility of an estate. Gentry established business connec- 
tions with merchants, sought wives among the well-provided 
daughters and widows of The Clothing, and-less eagerly but 
not infrequently-married then* daughters to the sons of mer- 
chants. About one-third of the aldermen of London during the 
Yorkist Age married into the gentry, 

The great merchants lived in dwellings much like the manor 
houses of prosperous knights and squires. Tbe mansion of 
Stephen Browne, grocer and twice Mayor of London, occo- 
pied a whole block between Thames Street and *** nver . Bu& 
behind his wharf, this residence had an oak-panelled ball, 40 


by 24 feet, running north and south and was entered from the 
court by a flight of stone steps. As in most houses of this kind 
in town or country, the buttery and pantry and kitchen, lying 
to the north, were screened off from the hall, an arrangement 
still to be seen in Oxford and Cambridge colleges, while an 
entry from the south end led into a series of family chambers, 
including a chapel. Between these a passage opened into the 
'great parlour', not much smaller than the hall, with bay-win- 
dows looking out on the panorama of Thames shipping. This 
timbered edifice stood on a vaulted undercroft of stone, stor- 
age cellars extending beneath much of the building. The en- 
trance court, measuring about 60 by 40 feet, was reached 
through a gateway in the north wing which contained a row 
of shops fronting on the street Browne's chapel was as much 
a mark of status as a clue to his piety: the Pastons put forward 
as one of the proofs of their gentility the fact that for many 
years the family had been licenced by the Bishop to attend 
divine service in their own chapel. 

Other dwellings, not so grand but still spacious, faced the 
street in the more usual town style and reached upward for 
their space: hall and kitchen offices occupied the floor above 
the shop; parlour, chapel, a principal bedchamber were on 
the second floor, with more chambers on the third. Smaller 
residences were built in *frames' of two or three or even more. 
A triplex* erected in Friday Street contained large shops over 
cellars, halls nine feet higjh with kitchens on the first storey, 
and on the storey above, three rooms for each household, eight 
feet high and probably wainscoted. 

Down in Bristol, Merchant Adventurers built themselves 
city estates that embraced a groined stone cellar and ware- 
house and hall and parlour and chambers and a tower; per- 
haps the men of Bristol fancied towers because they were used 
to standing on the high f orestage' of a ship to see the coast 
of Spain come up out of Biscay. The Paston place in Norwich 
would appear, from the address of a letter, to have been built 
around a court: To John Paston, Esquire, or to Roose dwell- 
ing afore Mistress Paston's gate.* Wills and the surviving 
houses themselves reveal that even villages, particularly those 
enriched by the cloth trade, boasted gracious dwellings with 


carved and gilded fronts brightening the street, like Thomas 
Paycocke's place at CoggeshaU and James Terumber*s cele- 
brated mansion in Trowbridge. 

People quite well off, however, occupied houses much less 
spacious than these. A London mercer possessed only one 
bedchamber for his wife and seven children; and a haber- 
dasher's house had apparently only two bedrooms in use, OIK 
with two beds, the other with five. Servants and apprentices 
and older children must often have slept on pallets in the hall, 
which was more and more becoming the domain of the house- 
hold *below-stairs 9 . 

The Londoner of middling means lived in a house like that 
of a draper in St Christopher's parish: a shop hung with 
painted buckram, a storeroom, and a wainscoted hafl screened 
from kitchen and buttery occupied the ground storey; and on 
the floor above were three bedchambers. Artisans and shop- 
holders of still more modest means lived in rows of dwellings, 
each of which consisted of a shop and small storage room 
behind, with 'solar 9 upstairs that served as parlour and bed- 
chamber. Humble citizens crowded shop and family into one 
room. These mean tenements, wedged against great booses 
or squeezed together along narrow alleys, often measured no 
more than 6 by 10 feet Shops with solar might have frontage 
of about 10 feet and a length twice that with a small garden 
at back. Four properties in Cheapside occupied a total front- 
age of 49 feet and ranged from 32 to 43 feet long. The mean- 
est houses rented for a few shillings a year; a tenement Sir 
John Howard let to a hosier in Crooked Lane fetched about 
40s a year; whereas Stephen Browne paid a quitrent of 19. 
A grocer's shop in Cheapside with *a place above if, presum- 
ably an establishment with a hall, rented for 4 6s Bd a year. 
During the Yorkist Age magnates and even royalty some- 
times preferred to put up at a merchant's house rather than to 
sojourn in the local abbey or castle. Doubtless Edward IV 
found the mansion of William Canynges more comfortable, 
when he was entertained there in 1461, than most of his own 
palaces. Canynges* house had a tower with four bay-windowed 
parlours, expanses of glass, and tiled floors. Even Hie hao^ty 
Margaret of Anjou chose, in 1456, to accommodate hersetf 


and her waiting women in the home of Richard Woode, mer- 
chant of Coventry, rather than to stay at the priory. 

Gardens of even the larger houses were often quite small 
but, from the evidence of wills and letters, highly prized. A 
London garden might offer a pear and an apple tree, a bed 
of herbs and simples, flower borders, a well, and a privy. John 
Baret of Bury made provision in his will so that bis niece 
Janet WhitweUe, who was bequeathed the use of certain cham- 
bers in his house, might have 'easement of the well in the yard, 
and easement of the privy in the same yard. And she to have 
a key of the great garden gate, to go in when she will and her 
servants and what friend she will call to her, and a place of 
the garden assigned to her for herbs and for wood to lie in*. 

For 'consolation' a man found it good to stroll among his 
flowers and meditate on God. So death took Sir John Heven- 
ingham, who Vent to his church and heard three Masses, 
and came home again never merrier and said to his wife that 
he would go say a little devotion hi his garden and then he 
would dine; and forthwith he felt a fainting in his leg and sat 
down. This was at nine of the clock, and he was dead ere 

Houses in small towns rented for much less than those in 
London, but incomes in the provinces were correspondingly 
lower. A serjeant-tailor in the Great Wardrobe was allowed 
<5 a year for a house, whereas down in Canterbury a mason 
who supervised all building in the Priory of Christ Church 
received a rent allowance of only < 1. The dwelling of a law- 
yer in Warrington, Lancashire, contained 'one fair hall', two 
chambers, and a kitchen; stable, barns, appleyard, almost an 
acre of land, 'and a fountain of springing water' completed 
the premises, for which the lawyer paid but 3s 3d yearly. Ed- 
mund Filpot, of Twickenham, though only a bricklayer, pos- 
sessed a 'dwelling house and place with thirteen small tene- 
ments to the same annexed', as is revealed in the register of 
Richard HFs chancery; for poor Edmund had had to secure 
'a protection for requiring of alms' because his property and 
*all his goods therein' had been 'suddenly burned, to his utter 
undoing; who before, kept after his degree a great household, 
bf which many poor creatures were refreshed'. 


The manor houses of the gentry varied as much in size and 
pretentiousness as the residences of substantial townsmen. Sir 
John Fastolf e, grown rich on the French wars and by shrewd 
management of lands, built himself a great castle at Caister 
which, along with the lovely brick pile of Tattershall Castle! 
Lincolnshire, was one of the last fortificaions in England 
erected as a private dwelling. 'A rich jewel,' Sir John's secre- 
tary William Worcester called it. The walls enclosed an elab- 
orate chapel and great hall and ^winter hall,' chambers for 
the master and chambers for guests and for servants, a 'great 
chamber' leading out of the 'Summer Hall', a white chamber 
next to it, and a Vhite-hanged chamber'-almost thirty rooms 
in all. 

Older manor houses still had the look of castles, being 
moated and walled; others, built around a quadrangle, pre- 
sented heavy walls and narrow apertures to the outside with 
more gracious windows facing on the courtyard; while still 
others were sprawling farmhouses. The Fastens' manor of 
Gresham had towers at each corner but the drawbridge had 
been replaced by a causeway and sprays of hedge lined the 
entry to the house. Leland, in the next century, described Sir 
William Stonofs chief seat at Stonor, Oxfordshire, as *a fair 
park, and a warren of conies, and fair woods. The mansion 
standeth climbing on an hill and hath two courts builded with 
timber, brick, and flint* . The brick portions of the manor bouse 
probably sprang from the building zeal of the first Thomas 
Stonor, who in the reign of Henry V bought 200,000 locks 
at Crockernend for 40, paid 15 to have them carted to 
Stonor, and hired Flemish workmen to lay them. Hie Stonor 
letters mention the usual array of rooms hall and parlour 
chamber and several other chambers; and one of Sir William 
Stonor's correspondents refers to his 'study*. 

From the records of a chantry established in Bridport, a 
country house of modest size can be reconstructed The 
founder of the chantry bequeathed his dwelling, probably on 
the outskirts of the town, for his two chantry priests to live in. 
The house contained a hall with kitchen and buttery adjoining, 
chambers for each of the priests, and apparently a guest cham- 
ber and a servant's room. House and garden were enclosed 


by a stone wall, hedge, and palings. Another ecclesiastical 
dwelling, the parsonage on the Paston manor of Oxnead, is 
pictured in a memorandum apparently drawn up for a pros- 
pective incumbent: 

"The church is but little, and is reasonable pleasant, 
and repaired. And the dwelling place of the parsonage is 
well housed and repaired, hall, chambers, bam, dove- 
house, and all houses of office. 

*And it hath a dove-house worth a year 14s 4d. 

*And it hath two large gardens . . . whereof the fruit 
is worth yearly 26s 8d. 

'And there longeth to the said parsonage hi free land 
adjoining to the said parsonage 22 acres or more, 
whereof every acre is worth 2s; to let, <3 4d. . . . 

*And it is but an easy cure to keep, for there are not 
past 20 persons to be yearly houseled. 

The parsonage stands by a fresh river-side. 

'And there is a good market-town called Aylesham 
within two mile of the parsonage. 

*And the city of Norwich is within six mile of the par- 

'And the sea is within ten mile of the parsonage.' 

In town or country mean dwellings probably showed little 
change from those of a hundred years before. Village cots, 
made of wattle and daub or rude planks, had but one room 
with a beaten earth floor and a smoky hearth in the centre of 
it. Peasants with a few coins in coffer dwelt in cottages that 
contained a kitchen and a chamber under the eaves. 

An esquire of the times of Edward HI transported to the 
London or the countryside of Edward IV would have found 
most dwellings familiar in appearance; but home life during 
the Yorkist Age had become markedly more comfortable, and 
a larger proportion of the population was able to enjoy these 
comforts. All over England, except in the North, cheerless 
castles were being allowed to fall into decay. Other castles and 
old-fashioned manor-houses now showed large windows, fire- 
places built into the walls (replacing the central hearth with 
smoke-louvre cut in the ceiling) , and additional airy parlours 


and solars. Increasing numbers of houses were being con- 
structed of brick in London, the eastern counties, and the 
Thames valley. On his manor of Hunsdon in Hertfordshire 
Sir William Oldhall, one of the Duke of York's chief adher- 
ents, erected a brick tower 80 feet square and 100 feet high, 
propped on each side with seven buttresses 'of great width' 
and crowned by an 'over-storey 9 or oriel with gilt vanes, and 
that enterprising squire John Paston is to be found moderniz- 
ing manors by adding several wall-chimneys. 

Social and architectural change reveal a growing demand 
for privacy, a privacy lighted by as many windows and as 
vividly upholstered as a man's purse would allow. 

Like the lords of the time, knights and merchants were no 
longer content to share the hurly-burly of the hall with serv- 
ants and retainers and apprentices and casual strangers. If a 
London mercer still ate dinner in his hall with his journeymen 
and apprentices and if a country gentleman shared his meat 
with his bailiff and reeve and farmhands, both men were after- 
wards likely to retire with their wives to the intimate comforts 
of the parlour, which in smaller places might also be the chief 

The parlour, or 'chamber 5 , though not new in the fifteenth 
century, had become the distinctive emblem of Yorkist houses. 
Within his river-front mansion Mayor Stephen Browne un- 
doubtedly entertained in the 'great parlour*, dined there with 
his wife, and played at tables, watching the sails on the river, 
white against green Surrey fields. Mayor Shillingford of Exeter 
had a parlour large enough to receive all his aldermen; a cen- 
tury before, they would have gathered in the hall. Joan Buck- 
land, of Edgcott, Northamptonshire, dined in state in her par- 
lour, for it contained a 'high dais' with a trestle table and a 
'long green table*. Baldwin Coksedge, gentleman, of Felsham 
in Suffolk, left to his wife Denyse a 'new house called a par- 
lour* on his manor of Upwode Hall; and John Baret of Bury 
built a residence around a parlour rather than a hall. 

William Marchall, clerk in the Chancery and a property 
owner hi Oxfordshire, likewise followed the fashion by adding 
a parlour to his place. He got word one winter day from his 
agent that 'two carpenters had been working continually for 


seven weeks since Michaelmas, and for three weeks past had 
wrought by candlelight evening and morning in one of the 
wool-houses; they had framed half the chamber floor and all 
the chief work of the jetty with goodly windows in two bays; 
the principal timbers were true heart of oak, and the rafters 
of elm; "doubt you not your chamber floor shall be strong 
enough and ye shall couch pipes of wine thereon, and then ye 
shall not bend it with dancing lightly . . .".' 

Sleeping quarters were also becoming less indiscriminately 
crowded. Men were erecting houses with numerous bedrooms 
so that the master and mistress might have a chamber of their 
own with other rooms provided for children, guests, and serv- 
ants. Sir Thomas Urswyk, Recorder of London knighted 'in 
the field* by Edward IV, had nine bedchambers in his coun- 
try house at Dagenham, including rooms for his chaplain and 
his clerk and a nursery for the children. Sir John Rudston's 
house in Cornhill not only contained a number of bedrooms 
but a 'maiden's chamber 9 and a 'brushing chamber 5 and a 
special larder for preparing fish. John Olney's place in Milk 
Street had as many as eight chambers which might be either 
bedrooms or parlours. Even after that *witty and eloquent' 
Mayor and Mercer of London, Sir Thomas Cook, had lost 
most of his fortune as a result of running afoul of the greedy 
Woodvilles, he could not bear to relinquish the pleasures of 
privacy and built himself 'a little mansion f ore-against the east 
end of the Friars Augustins' which dispensed with a hall but 
contained five rooms for himself, including a study and a 
countinghouse, chambers for his wife, and a chapeL 

Amenities and conveniences did not keep pace with the 
movement toward privacy but they were growing more elab- 
orate and more numerous. Bedrooms of any pretensions con- 
tained chamberpots. The merchant or knight who demanded 
the latest in comfort equipped his chamber with a portable 
night-stool provided with a stock of cheap cloths *f or wiping 
the nether end", a covering of coloured cloth, and a cushion 
to conceal the hole in the daytime. A servant was expected 
to tend to this convenience first thing in the morning and to be 
on hand, when his master used the stool, with a basin of water 
and a towel. London mansions had a privy in the garden and 


one upstairs, with leaden urinals in the courtyard and cess-pits 
having exit pipes for proper disposal of sewage. A modest 
'frame' of dwellings offered a privy for each pair of houses; 
the poor, crowded into one room, used street conveniences. 
A woman living in Queenhithe connected the latrine in her 
solar with the street gutter by a wooden pipe; but such enter- 
prise was no longer tolerated in London and she had to make 
other arrangements. Kitchen slops, all manner of liquid and 
casual refuse continued to be thrown into the street 

Manor houses and town mansions were usually supplied 
with wells. Some Londoners possessed rainwater cisterns from 
which gutters might run into the kitchen. Those fortunate 
enough to dwell by the Thames used river water. Others de- 
pended upon municipal conduits and 'bosses' and wells. Even 
modest households owned numerous basins, ewers, lavers, of 
silver or pewter or latten (a cheap metal alloy much used). 
Some large houses had 'lavatoria', systems of hanging basins 
with drain pipes down to gutters. William Honyboorn of Bury, 
a dyer, bequeathed to his daughter *my best hanging laver 
standing in my parlour*. Bedrooms were often equipped with 
'chaffers* for heating water. 

Complete immersion depended, it appears, on status and 
individual taste. Many town labourers and peasants were 
doubtless satisfied with the rite of baptism. Men of moderate 
means sometimes numbered bath-tubs among their posses- 
sions. Lords and lordly merchants owned a bathing-teat, which 
consisted of a tub cushioned with sponges and shrouded in 
sheets or richer textiles that hung from a framework. A serv- 
ant used smaller sponges for soaping his master and for rinsing 
him with hot herbs and aromatics. Public bath-houses in towns 
still continued the Roman tradition. When Sir John Howard 
was sojourning in London, his steward sometimes recorded a 
payment of 6d for the bagnio'. Many of these 'stews', par- 
ticularly those in Southward were little more than fancy 
houses of prostitution. On one occasion that old roue, Duke 
Philip of Burgundy, wishing to honour an English embassy 
that met him at Valenciennes, hired the bath-house of the 
town for the envoys, complete with filles de joie. During the 
reign of Edward IV, however, London offered at least three 


respectable bath-houses for women and two for men. For 
Mak and Tib there was the country brook or the river Thames 
or the consolation of knowing that many physicians regarded 
bathing as an open invitation to the plague. Surviving informa- 
tion about bathing habits tends to be haphazard. The widow 
of a merchant willed to a friend 6 a bowl basin to wash his 
feet in*. William Stonor, on a visit to one Master Marmion, 
disbursed 15d to a barber for cleaning his head. 

The washing of clothes, on the other hand, was attacked 
much more systematically. Men and women of any conse- 
quence were expected to appear hi clean garments. Hand- 
books of manners emphasize to city apprentice or yeoman's 
son that he must at all times present himself in 'fresh and 
clean array*. A London tailor was sent to prison for forcing 
an apprentice to go to bed *foul-shirted and full of vermin'. 
For the servants of a manor house a stream nearby provided 
laundry facilities; the clothes of Londoners were washed on 
the banks of the Thames. Most towns forbade women to mo- 
nopolize the public conduits in doing their laundry. Profes- 
sional laundresses were common. On journeys about the coun- 
try or when he was in the capital, Sir John Howard had his 
shirts washed for a penny. London records reveal the activities 
of 'Beatrice le Wimplewasher' and 'Massiota la Lavendere'. 
The heavy wool gowns and hangings, elaborately sleeved 
doublets and delicate linens must have challenged all their 
ingenuity and courage. 

Many halls, as well as humble cottages, were still heated by 
a smoky central hearth, an ancient arrangement that would 
persist here and there for another century conservatives de- 
clared the smoke to be medicinal but the new fashion of wall- 
chimneys was fast spreading in town and country. Shops in 
London and other cities offered wide stone fireplaces at which 
customers might warm themselves; in the houses of the well- 
to-do, such fireplaces, equipped with decorative andirons and 
tongs and bellows, were to be found in hall and parlour and 
principal bedroom. Braziers, conveniently wheeled, provided 
heat at need for other chambers. 

In the dwelling of all but the poorer classes, candles fur- 
nished the chief means of artificial lighting. The wills of the 


period abound in bequests of candle-holders made in a variety 
of metals, shapes, and sizes. Parlours and halls of wealthy 
men were lighted by chandeliers suspended from the ceiling 
and by wax torches thrust into sockets on the walls. Candles 
were not cheap, especially the ceremonial tapers weighing five 
pounds or more, for wax was an imported article; and even 
tallow cost four times the same weight of lean meat The two 
chantry priests of Bridport used about 18 pounds of candles 
a year. The household of the Duke of Clarence consumed an 
average of three dozen a night from All Hallows to Easter, 
and the chandler's bill for a year ran to 64 (more than 
< 2,000 in modern money). Torches and oil-burning lanterns 
provided portable iUumination. Cottages flickered hi the smoky 
flame of home-made rushlights. 

If such artificial illumination marks little change from a 
former time, the light of day itself flooded halls and parlours 
and chambers. Only householders of rather slender means or 
old-fashioned tastes now stopped openings hi the walls with 
thm horn, oiled linen and the like. The delight in sweeps of 
glass expressed in the perpendicular architecture of churches 
also showed itself in the domiciles of the day. A merchant in 
Southwark planning an addition to his house wanted eighteen 
windows in each of the two upper storeys of the new wing. 
Sir John Howard was able to buy glass from an Ipswich glazier 
at 5d a foot. Though by no means a luxury, then, glass was 
still sufficiently costly and new so that people bequeathed win- 
dows like gowns in their wills and sometimes carried off glass 
panes when they moved from one dwelling to another. The 
Parson of Oxnead, on leaving the rectory, carted away all 
doors and windows. Gerhard von Wesel, forced to leave the 
Hanse Steelyard in London, was in mortal fear that he would 
not be allowed to remove the new glass he had installed. He 
had heard that the rent-gatherer was loath that John my child 
should take away such reparations as I have made in my 
chamber, as glass windows and other things'. Though dis- 
tressed at losing 20 worth of glass, Gerhard was mainly 
concerned lest 'others should mock me to scorn with my fa- 
ther's arms and marks in glass windows and other places'. Hie 
practice of treating windows like furniture continued to cause 


quarrels and law-suits until the time of Henry Vffi, when it 
was enacted that windows were part of a house rather than 

Movables themselves showed little change from Chaucer's 
day and would show little for some decades after the Yorkist 
Age. Even in palaces, furniture was quite scanty and, though 
often richly carved, simple in design. A book illustration shows 
Henry VIE, grown old, sitting on a chest and playing his lute; 
the chest constitutes the only furniture of the chamber. Sev- 
eral drawings in Flemish manuscripts picture Philip of Bur- 
gundy or his son Charles, rulers of the most splendid court 
in Europe, standing beneath a 'cloth of estate* and consulting 
with their councillors, likewise standing. People of the fif- 
teenth century, it appears, stood a great deal more than we 
do; and when they did sit, gentlemen were content with a 
bench or a joint-stool or a chest, while ladies often bestowed 
themselves upon cushions placed about the floor. 

Hall and parlour usually contained one or two trestle tables, 
folded against the wall when not being used for meals; benches 
and 'forms'; and perhaps one chair. Permanent tables, espe- 
cially small three-legged affairs, were becoming increasingly 
popular as the age drew to a close. Bedchambers, except for 
the elaborate bed itself, often contained no more than a chest 
and a truckle bed* for an attendant to sleep on, which was 
pushed underneath the large bed during the day. In the wills 
of the period tables receive no more than casual mention, 
cushions and joint-stools are bequeathed by the dozen; but 
chairs are described with evident pride. Joan Buckland owned 
a 'carven chair* and another chair 'of beyond sea making*. 
Sir William Stonor was informed on one occasion that the new 
"chair for the mistress is made after your device*. The spaces 
of Sir John Fastolfe's great hall contained two chairs, one red 
and one green, and there were two others in his winter hall. 

Floors of stone or planks were strewn with rushes. The 
chantry priests in Bridport changed their rushes quarterly, but 
wealthier households in spring and summer probably fresh- 
ened chambers with flowers and aromatic herbs at more fre- 
quent intervals. Erasmus, however, mentions rooms in which 
only the upper layer of rushes was regularly removed, leaving 


at the bottom indescribable abominations. IUe flooring was 
beginning to come in, probably under the influence of the 
close political and mercantile tie between England and the 
Low Countries. The Drapers of London had a tfled hall and 
parquet flooring in the kitchen. The hall at Crosby's Place, like 
that of Gildhall, was paved with unpolished Purbeck marble. 

But flooring, furniture, architectural ornament created only 
the framework of an interior. Wall hangings and canopied 
beds and cupboards displaying plate sounded the tone of a 
house, expressing the owner's wealth and taste and status. Hfce 
costume and etiquette, rich stuffs helped to force life up into 
an allegory of consoling significance. Here again Burgundian 
influence was probably strong. In accents of wonder young 
John Paston described to his mother the wedding of Edward 
IVs sister Margaret to Charles of Burgundy, at Bruges: 'I have 
no wit nor remembrance to write to you half the worship 
that is here; as for the Duke's court ... I heard never of 
none like to it, save King Arthur's court* 

Fifteenth-century wills from all parts of England reveal men 
and women, even in the contemplation of death, affection- 
ately telling over their cloths of Arras, their curtained beds- 
puny clouds of colour and their jewels and gowns and plate, 
ivory tables* (backgammon), chess sets, silver spectacles. 
Wills turn up other things too: fondness for servants, apprecia- 
tion of friendships, kindness to employees, a benevolent in- 
terest in the poor of the parish or of surrounding villages, 
and, for the present-day reader, occasional curious touches. 
In 1463 John Baret of Bury left to Lady Walgrave a <musk- 
ball of gold with pearls and lace 1 . 1 A decade later, Sir John 
Paston, courting for his brother a widowed Lady Walgrave, 
playfully carried away her musk-ball. The same John Baret 
bequeathed to Thomas Brews, who would one day become 
young John Paston's father-in-law, a cramp-ring of silver gOt 
and black enamel. Cramp-rings, frequently mentioned in wills, 
were supposed to have achieved their efficacy against cramp 
through being blessed in a special ceremony on Good Friday 
by the King or, more often, the Queen. Sir Thomas Cumber- 

1 A musk-ball was an ornamental perfume dispenser, worn on dothiog 
or carried in the hand. 


worth of Somerby, Lincolnshire, whose will reveals a house- 
hold and estate abounding in beautiful stuffs, gowns, money, 
cattle, jewellery, armour, began his bequest to his niece An- 
neys with a 'pair of beads of coral gauded with gold'. Perhaps 
they reminded him of Madame Egjentyne 

Of smal coral about her arm she bore 

A pair of beads, gauded all with green, 

And thereon hung a broach of gold full shene 

for Sir Thomas coupled this gift of beads with 'My boke of 
the talys of Cantyrbury'. 

Halls, parlours, bedchambers were swathed in tapestries or 
woollens of solid colours or painted cloths, in 'bankers and 
dorsers' flung over benches, and in cushions by the dozen. 
Lords and gentry, moving from manor to manor, often took a 
number of their hangings with them. An inventory of 'the stuff 
that is left within the manor of Stonor . . . from year unto 
year 9 enumerates, among a host of articles ranging from *1 
wood axe' and *1 flesh axe' to *1 Grail*, hangings of black say 
(fine serge) for the hall along with two cushions covered with 
grey skin, two of red worsted, and two of tapestry work with 
*knots'. The parlour, warmed by a fireplace, contained a 
feather-bed with *a red coverlet with green chaplets* and also 
a 'green coverlet with pots and ostrich feathers'. The Tittle 
chamber annexed unto the parlour 9 , was hung with cloth 
striped purple and green. Three other chambers displayed 
hangings of red and green stripes and in one of them was a 
bed curtained in red and green. The Stonor chapel not only 
shone with coloured glass and painted images but was pro- 
vided with vestments of purple velvet lined with green sarce- 
net,, albs of Breton linen, 'carpets for the sacrament' with a 
canopy of silk, copes of purple velvet lined with tawny sarce- 
net, the Trinity cut in alabaster, and, among other rich ob- 
jects, a case for the Sacred Elements of white and blue velvet 
barred with red velvet and embroidered with a 'trail of ivy 5 . 

Alicia Langham, of Snaylwell, Suffolk, who appears to have 
been only moderately well off, was able to leave one daughter 
a tapestry depicting the history of Robert of Sicily, perhaps 
her grandest possession, and a second daughter, a nun, a 


*hanged* bed and a carved wooden coffer made in Prussia. 
Some people liked rooms decorated all in one colour, as did 
Joan Buckland who slept in a 'chamber of red*. Many retired 
naked, but they sank into feather beds smothered in pillows 
and blankets and sheets, and were protected against draughts, 
even against air, by closely drawn curtains. 

Tapestries 'of Arras* were the most expensive hangings; next 
came good woven stuff in solid colours with figures or a bor- 
der; and for men of narrower means, mercers and drapers 
stocked 'counterfeit Arras', cheap painted cloths. The people 
of this age delighted in bold designs and bright hues, though 
gentler colours like 'applebloom' and mulberry and grey were 
coming in. One set of parlour hangings displayed *fen coun- 
tries bordered with histories of the bible* while other 'ballings' 
and bed curtains abounded in elephants, unicorns, dragons, 
pelicans. The Ironmongers of London owned two hangings 
*with peacocks, vines, and wells with the seven planets coun- 
terset*. The finest Arras were enormously dear: Sir Thomas 
Cook first got into trouble with the WoodvOles when he re- 
fused to sell at a loss a tapestry depicting the Siege of Jeru- 
salem that had cost him 800 (about twice the yearly in- 
come of most barons). 

An inventory of the goods Sir John Fastolf e stuffed into 
Caister Castle offers a lepertory of the sort of hangings with 
which the rich surrounded themselves: the Aether hall' was 
enlivened by a cloth of Arras *with a giant in the middle, bear- 
ing a leg of a bear in his hand 5 ; the hanging behind the dais 
offered 'one wodewose [wfldman, a favourite figure] and one 
child in his arms*; while the west side of this hall was covered 
with a 'cloth of the Siege of Falaise*. Other tapestries depicted 
the Adoration of the Shepherds; three archers shooting at a 
duck in the water, a gentlewoman harping by a castle; the 
Nine Worthies; 'a man drawing water in tbe middle of the 
cloth out of a weH*. A less costly *haffing of deep green' cov- 
ered a wall space eleven yards long and four yards wide, 
'Bankers' relieved the simplicity of benches with cloths show- 
ing a bear holding a spear, a man shooting at a bioodbooad, 
and other studies from life or fancy. One of the many tapes- 
tried bed-hangings pictured *a gentlewoman being there in tbe 


corner with a whelp in her hand and an Agnus Dei about her 
neck'. Coverlets were no less vivid. Even Sir John's cook was 
lulled to slumber by a 'red coverlet of roses and bloodhounds' 

Next after hangings, the men and women of this time prized 
the workmanship and the massiveness of their plate. People 
of means liked to emphasize their status by covering dinner 
tables with a profusion of silver, at the same time displaying 
on a cupboard in hall or parlour a collection of plate as large 
as that which was being used. The Venetian diplomat reported 
that the amount of plate for sale in the shops of London could 
not be matched in Milan, Rome, Venice and Florence put 
together, and that 'no one who has not in his house silver plate 
worth at least -100 is considered by the English to be a per- 
son of any consequence'. Most of this plate consisted of huge 
'salts' or salt cellars with elaborate covers, cups and goblets 
and ewers and basins and chargers, 'for they eat off that fine 
tin [pewter] that is little inferior to silver 5 . Mazers, drinking 
bowls of wood bound in silver with a medallion or figure at 
the bottom, were often given pet names. Sir John Fastolfe's 
inventory lists more than 500 pieces of plate, ranging from 'a 
cup of gold with a ewer' and '6 Paris cups of silver of the 
months* to 'great chargers' and numerous salt cellars, one Veil 
gilt with many windows' and another 'like a bastille all gilt 
with roses'. A widow, no more than well-to-do, could refer 
casually to 'all my silver vessel (26 platters) and 32 saucers 
that I am served withal daily 3 . Forks had made their appear- 
ance: John Baret willed to a friend his 'silver fork for green 

Kitchen utensils ran to rather massive instruments like axes 
and mortar-and-pestles and iron frying pans and ladles and 
brass pots. Sir John Howard's papers reveal him setting up in 
housekeeping his daughter and her husband with the following 
gifts: a frying pan, a gridiron, two ladles and two skimmers; 
6 spoons, 2 salts 'parcel gflf , 3 basins and 2 ewers, 2 long pots 
of tin; 16 yards of banker, many yards of green and blue 
worsted, a hanging bed of red worsted, a carpet, and, to his 
son-in-law, a gown of chamlet, furred. Shortly after Howard 
married for the second time he delivered to his lady, for the 


furnishing of one of his manors, 80 yards of Holland cloth, 
7 yards of green velvet and almost the same amount of 
crimson velvet, a bed curtained in crimson damask and one 
hung with tapestry, 32 yards of Arras, and *4 pieces of new 
Arras come late from Calais'. 

In the same extravagance of materials and design the peo- 
ple of the period quilted their bodies. The Venetian diplomat 
summed up native dress in a sentence: They all from time 
immemorial wear very fine clothes.' Despite sumptuary legis- 
lation by Parliament, regulations by gilds, cautions of the 
Church and barbs of satirists, Englishmen dressed to the height 
of then* bent; and then" bent was for luxurious cloth, exciting 
colours, and a cascade of flashing ornaments. Men dressed 
gaily, not only to spice their lives and to express, or counter- 
feit, their 'estate' but also to exploit a means of conspicuous 
consumption in an age when such means were limited but 
were becoming less so. The costume of the upper ranks dem- 
onstrated an excess of materials that flagrantly disregarded 
the contours of the body and the requirements of efficiency 
or that, in the case of indecently short doublets, flouted pro- 
priety in order to emphasize the supreme rights of fashion. In 
almost Elizabethan style Thomas Hoccleve railed against the 
outrageousness of dress; perhaps he was a little soured by the 
pinched means his salary as a clerk to the Privy Seal confined 

him to: 

But this methinketh an abusion, 

To see one walk in a robe of scarlet 

Twelve yards wide, with pendant sleeves down 

On the ground, and the fur therein set 

Amounting unto 20 or better. 

And if he for it paid, hath he no good 

Left him wherewith to buy himself an hood 

So poor a wight his lord to counterfeit 

In his array! In my conceit it stinketh! 

So many wasteful yards of cloth and windings of fur are used 
in gowns, Hoccleve goes on, that tailors and skinners will soon 
have to abandon their shops and take to the fields in order to 
have room enough to carry on their crafts. 


Playing cards preserve in stylized form the dress of the day, 
for playing cards came into England during this period and 
were illustrated in the contemporary fashion. Indeed, the 
present-day conception of mediaeval costume in general and 
of the dress proper to fairy princes and princesses represents 
actually the styles of the Yorkist Age. 

Women's robes showed little change from the past except 
that they had grown longer. The Bohemian visitors of 1465 
were struck by the length of trains at court. Ladies wore neck- 
lines low and square-cut, with sleeves puffed or flowing. They 
expressed themselves most characteristically in then* head- 
dresses, elaborate constructions trailing clouds of fine linen. 
In the earlier decades of the century, horned headdresses were 
popular, satirized by John Lydgate in A Little Short Ditty 
Against Horns, in which he assured ladies that 'Beauty will 
show though horns were away'. Women also fancied head- 
dresses in the shape of hearts or butterflies or crescents or 
wound them into towered turbans. During the reign of Ed- 
ward IV, the emblem of the fairy princess made its appear- 
ance, the steeple headdress, a long cone tilted at an angle of 
some 45 degrees and trailing lawn to the ground. Too pain- 
fully heavy to wear for long, the steeple was replaced before 
the end of the century by much simpler gear. The portrait 
of Edward IVs Queen, Elizabeth Woodville, shows how a 
great lady arranged her face to suit her headdress. Eyebrows 
and even forehead-hair were severely plucked in order to 
simulate a very high brow, continued by the lines of the head- 
dress, and to create a smooth, masklike appearance which 
dramatized the difference between a woman and a woman of 

Gowns were gathered with cinctures of silk and velvet 
tipped with an enamel-and-silver pendant or a jewel-studded 
leather tag dusting the ground. Kerchiefs, brooches, rings, 
collars, and other ornamental 'devices' lovingly enumerated 
in wills, highlighted the comparative sobriety of gowns. 
Ladies were fond of expensive rosaries of coral and often 
wore them wrapped round their wrists. In January of 1467 
Sir John Howard presented his second wife with five gowns, 
including a green velvet and a crimson velvet and a black 


velvet all furred with miniver and ermine; but he also gave 
her no less than nine rings set with precious stones, six plain 
gold rings, four chains and collars, among them a 'device of 
gold in fourteen links 9 set with four rubies, three diamonds, 
seven pearls. 

Men dressed hi a more extreme style than women, dictated 
more rapid changes of fashion, wore a greater variety of gar- 
ments, and, if surviving records tell a true story, spent mane 
on their clothes. A few months after Margery Brews and 
young John Paston were married, Margery informed her hus- 
band that she had only two gowns for winter wear, *my black 
and my green-Alyre*; whereas John could afford to leave be- 
hind in his brother's London chambers 'my tawny gown furred 
with black and the doublet of purple satin and the doublet of 
black satin'. Hoods and variations on the hood like chaperooes 
had now mostly gone out except for use in wet weather or on 
a journey; though in the earlier part of Henry VTs reign lira- 
pipes were still being worn, a sort of loose turban of cloth 
with a long streamer hanging down the side or thrown ow 
the shoulder. During the Wars of the Roses hats made of 
velvet or fur or leather or a variety of cloths assumed peaked 
or bulbous or pot-shaped forms; but before the end of Ed- 
ward IV's reign there had appeared the trim velvet cap, often 
jewelled or bearing insignias and badges. 2 Mea no longer 
wore their hair short as in Henry Vs day; now it hung to tbe 
shoulders and fops occasionally let it grow so long they could 
scarcely see. The faces of the upper ranks were clean-shaven. 
The doublet provided the chief masculine opportunity for 
extravagant finery, though short gowns could also be very 
'fetis' (fashionable). Courtiers wore doublets with fiercely 
padded shoulders and suave, tight waists. Hie sleeves had be- 
come wild concoctions of velvet and damask and satin* drip- 
ping to the floor or wrapped around the arms in so many folds 
and layers as to look like barrels, or slashed to show the lining 
and sometimes laced. Devotees of fashion wore doublets and 
demi-gowns so indecently short (only the hose cloth covered 
the privy parts) that they were prohibited in the sumptuary 
law of 1463. Hose cloths came in a rainbow of shades, the 
8 See the portrait of Richard HI among tbe illustrations. 


two legs often showing different colours. Shirts worn beneath 
the doublet were of fine Holland cloth. 

Shoes completed the extravagance of shoulders and sleeves. 
Their points or 'pikes' were often so long that in order for 
their wearer to move at all, they had to be ornamentally 
chained at the knee. 3 Certain London cordwainers, for rea- 
sons unknown, secured a papal Bull limiting the length of pikes 
to two inches, on pain of cursing; but the Bull was derided, 
the Cordwainers Gild secured privy seals from the King per- 
mitting them to make pikes as long as they pleased; and those 
members of the craft who had sought to discourage high fash- 
ion were made to see the error of their ways. For riding or 
hunting or tramping about then* estates, men wore boots com- 
ing to the calf or full-length 'boteux'. 

While young courtiers and those aping courtiers indulged 
themselves in doublets of crimson velvet or green damask, 
The Clothing* of the towns and the conservative ranks of lords 
and gentry probably spent more of their money on long 
gowns, expensively furred, weightily sleeved, and lined with 
bright silks or satins. The repertory of furs extended from 
lordly ermine and marten and sable through beaver, budge 
(lamb), fox, otter, to squirrel and rabbit, and even cat. On 
shopping expeditions in London Sir John Howard, before he 
became a baron or a duke, purchased crimson jackets and 
purple jackets and black velvet doublets and doublets of dam- 
ask, a tawny cloak lined with velvet, other cloaks black and 
white, long gowns of crimson velvet lined with silk and of 
green velvet and of chamlet furred, a short gown of russet 
velvet furred with marten, and for ceremonies at court a 
doublet of cloth of gold. He bought leather boots for 3s a 
pair, while three pairs of ordinary shoes cost only 2s; a fine 
hosecloth was worth 4s; and to make livery gowns for his 
household officers and servants he purchased good warm cloth 
of russet or murrey (mulberry, one of the colours of the 

8 So famous on the Continent were the pointed toes of English shoes 
and the martial prowess of Edward IV that a Netherlands chronicler 
ends his badly muddled account of the battle of Towton by declaring 
that after the Earl of Warwick had fled, King Edward and a small band 
of followers won an almost miraculous victory by dismounting to fight 
on foot after prudently tearing off the 'beaks' of their shoes. 


House of York) and black broadcloth and friezes of various 
colours, costing from 2s to 4s or 5s a yard. 

The Clothing 9 achieved an array of gowns by virtue of 
their positions in municipal life: the great scarlet gown, furred, 
of an alderman, striped gowns representing the livery pre- 
sented yearly by the mayor to his brethren, winter and sum- 
mer gowns in the colours of gfld or company or religious 
fraternity. It is not surprising that the wifls of townsmen 
rustle richly with the itemizing of gowns bequeathed to kia 
and friends. When the Mayor of London rode out to Black- 
heath at the head of a train of citizens to welcome the boy- 
king Henry VI home from France in 1432, he appeared in 
*red crimson velvet, and a great velvet hat furred royally, 
and a girdle of gold about his middle, and a baldric of gold 
about his neck trilling down behind him*. When Loadooere 
welcomed Edward IV to the city, the Mayor and aldermen 
in their scarlet headed a procession of several hundred sub- 
stantial citizens clad alike in violet or green or white gowns. 

Sumptuary legislation in the reign of Henry IV prohibited 
all those beneath the rank of knight, except for mayors and 
ex-mayors of London, York, Bristol and their wives, from 
wearing fine fur and gold ornaments; whereas by the second 
year of Edward IVs reign (1463), aldermen and sheriffs e^- 
erywhere might display the same luxury of dress as esquires 
and gentlemen worth 40 a year. But sumptuary legislation 
was only a gesture, a vain attempt to preserve the security of 
the good old days by maintaining on parchment distinctions 
of rank that had already disappeared, or were fast disappear- 
ing, from the street 

Men enjoyed the glitter of ornaments as much as women, 
studded their fingers with rings, wore belts of jewelled leather 
and silver, slung heavy chains of precious metals around 
their necks, and, if they were men of court, displayed in 
Lancastrian days the honorific collar of SS and in the house- 
holds of Edward IV and Richard m the Yorkist collar of 
suns and roses. 4 Fashionable costume was designed to set 

*The white rose of York; a baHad celebrates Edward IV as Tbe ftoec 
of Rouen (his birthplace). The device of sons derives from an experi- 
ence Edward had just before hfe victory at Mortar** 1 * doss (Febu 3, 
1461), when 'over him, men say, [were] three sraas sharing*; aod he was 


man off from the animals, to dissociate him from labour, to 
suggest the weight of his purse, to indicate his status or pro- 
fession, and to dramatize his breeding, perhaps his comfort- 
ing uniqueness. 

The same urges and attitudes demonstrated by the furnish- 
ings and the costumes of the age likewise find their expression 
in the cooking and serving of meals. The English took their 
food seriously, sometimes ritually, and usually in large quan- 
tities. Travellers during the Wars of the Roses rarely failed 
to make some comment upon the subject. The Bohemian 
lords were amazed at the dinner of fifty courses given them 
by King Edward, only to become still more amazed when that 
overmightiest of subjects, Warwick the Kingmaker, set before 
them sixty courses. The German Popplau discovered that the 
English spent largely on feasting and good living; but in his 
opinion the cooking was hardly adequate and the natives were 
satisfied with dishes that were coarse to his palate. A papal 
agent handled roughly at Calais wrote bitterly to the Duke of 
Milan that the English were all gluttons and devils. Polydore 
Vergil, only a few years after the end of our period, smacked 
his lips over the beef, which he thought 'peerless, especially 
being a few days powdered with salt'. 

The Venetian diplomat has more to say about English food 
and cooking than any other visitor of the time. He empha- 
sized the great variety of seafood, singling out particularly 
salmon, 'a most delicious fish'; and he was also struck by the 
'immense profusion* of edible animals, wild and domestic. 
He noted that the English drank great quantities of beer and 
ale, liquors which the Venetian himself came to enjoy after a 
little experimentation, finding them especially refreshing when 
he was overheated. Much wine was drunk too, but from his 
observation people preferredeven ladies of distinctionto 
go to a tavern to enjoy their wine rather than to serve it at 
home. He was above all impressed by the importance attached 
to food by all degrees of men. 'They have a very high reputa- 
tion in arms ... but I have it on the best authority that when 
war is raging most furiously, they will still seek for good eat- 

qgick-witted enough to persuade his men that this peculiar atmospheric 
effect was an omen of success. 


ing and all their other comforts. . . . They take great pleas- 
ure in having a quantity of excellent victuals and also in re- 
maining a long time at table, being very sparing of wine 
when they drink it at their own expense*, nor do they con- 
sider 'it any inconvenience for three or four peisons to drink 
out of the same cup", a custom on which Erasmus likewise 

'They think that no greater honour can be conferred or re- 
ceived than to invite others to eat with them or to be invited 
themselves; and they would sooner give five or six ducats to 
provide an entertainment for a person than a groat to assist 
him in any distress.' The Venetian enjoyed the 'magnificent 
banquet' lasting four hours or more' given by the Lord Mayor 
of London on the day he assumed office and estimated that 
'there must have been 1,000 or more persons at table'. But 
at a dinner given by the Sheriffs to which I went, being 
anxious to see all I could' he was even more impressed by 
*how punctiliously [the guests] sat in their order, and the 
extraordinary silence of everyone, insomuch that I could have 
imagined it one of those public repasts of the Lacedemonians 
that I have read of. 

Professional cooking was done by men, aided by kitchen 
boys who were often apprentice-cooks. Cooking was a man's 
profession because it was man's work: it took muscle to wield 
the flesh-axe' and sever a boar's head and to hack and beat 
the dried fish and to brandish a vigorous pestle in pounding 
salted meat to pulp in a big marble mortar. As in all ages, 
cooks held a high position among household servants. When 
Master Stamford, the Duke of Norfolk's cook, fell SI, Sir 
John Howard lent the Duke 6s 8d to cheer the man's spirits, 
and a few days later Master Stamford received anotiber 6s 
8d (equal to a week's wages or more of a skilled artisan). 
When Sir John himself dined out, he seems to have left tips 
only for the cook: at the Abbey of St Ossith's, 20d to the 
Abbot's cook; and after dining with King Edward's favourite, 
Lord Hastings, 'to the cooks of my Lord Chamberlain, 5sV 
In great establishments the kitchen was often a separate build- 
ing, circular with a cone-shaped roof topped by a louvre for 
ventilation, as may be seen at Glastonbury. 


Three principal meals divided the day, hours varying ac- 
cording to the season of the year: breakfast at six or seven; 
dinner, the main meal, from nine till noon but usually about 
ten or eleven; and supper in the neighbourhood of four P.M. 
Lordly households also made provision for 'All-night*, a snack 
eaten in the bedchamber before going to bed. All ranks faced 
much the same kind of breakfast. After Edward IV or Sir 
John Paston had heard Mass, they broke their fast with ale 
and bread and boiled beef or mutton or herring, while the 
yeoman or small shopholder fortified himself for the day's 
work with ale and bread and a bit of bacon or a piece of cheap 
fish. When Sir John Howard, on a hunting expedition, paused 
at a country tavern for breakfast, he satisfied himself with 
bacon, oatmeal liberally sprinkled with saffron, and the usual 
ale and bread. Supper was often not much more than a some- 
what enlarged breakfast Dinner was the serious meal of the 
day; and when guests arrived or a holiday season came round, 
it was expected to express the status of the family. 

The diet of the Yorkist Age immediately presents three 
striking characteristics to men of a later and less gastronomic 
time: the variety of meats and fish and the dishes made out 
of them; the abundance of stews and thick soups and pies and 
fritters'; and the gargantuan consumption of spices. Choice 
of food was then bounded by the season of the year and the 
decrees of the Church. Since, in most parts of England, cat- 
tle could not be pastured over the winter, there took place a 
great slaughtering of animals at Martinmas (November 11). 
This meat, salted by the butcher or at home, became, along 
with salt fish, the staple of winter meals. At Lent, even salt 
meat disappeared from the menu, but people enlivened the 
diet of fish by purchasing quantities of figs and raisins and 
almonds and dates and nuts. One late spring a Bristol mer- 
chant refused a shipload of these dainties brought from Spain 
because it had missed the season; that is, Easter was already 
past. The coming of spring, so sensitively recorded hi the 
lyrics of the period, not only meant the loveliness of new 
green in hedge and wood but it also signalled the approach 
of fresh meat. Not very good meat, at least on the table of 
the average man. Cattle tended to be lean and stringy. Meat 


was often consumed either within three days of slaughter or 
much later and thus it tended to he green and tough or very 
high. Winter and summer, game offered a relief to palates 
weary of dried or salted flesh. 

Still, there was no lack of variety. In the autumn wives laid 
up quantities of stockfish, salt eels, salmon, red herring, white 
herring, cod, ling. Rivers and stewponds and the ocean sup- 
plied fresh fish in season. On one visit to Colchester, Sir John 
Howard enjoyed messes of marlin, shrimp, flounder, haddock. 
People also ate porpoise, swordftsh, sturgeon, whale, dogfish, 
and other creatures. 

There was likewise an extensive repertory of game. Mer- 
chants and gentry secured warrants from well-placed friends 
to shoot, or have killed for them, deer in the royal forests or 
a nobleman's preserve. The more prosperous men of the 
middle ranks now enclosed their own parks and warrens. For 
many years the citizens of London had held, by charter, com- 
mon hunting rights in Middlesex, Surrey, and the ChOtems. 
London employed a Common Hunt at a salary of 10 a year, 
a gentleman learned in the art of venery who looked after 
horses and hounds. Supposedly hunting was the sport of the 
gentle' as it had once been supposedly only the sport of kings. 
By law, no man was to own greyhounds or other hunting dogs 
unless he had lands worth 40s a year or was a clerk with a 
salary of at least 10; but, like sumptuary laws, such restric- 
tions only emphasized the break-down of mediaeval rank. 
And among the lower orders the fine art of poaching flour- 
ished. In addition to venison and, on special occasions, boar, 
the subjects of King Edward IV loaded their tables wife 
swans, cranes, heronsews, pheasants, curlews, peacocks, 
widgeons, bustards, plover, mallards, woodcocks, seagulls, 
quail, snipe, partridges, larks, and a variety of small birds 
including blackbirds. 

The diet of an ordinary family, such as that of a small shop- 
holder or yeoman farmer, can be seen in the household 
expenses of the two chantry priests at Bridport, wfao had an 
income between them of about 11 or 12 a year. They ate 
beef, mutton, pork and the usual variety of fish, both salted 
and fresh; they sometimes treated themselves to oystes, mos- 


sels, whelks, cockles. They freshened their Lenten diet with 
fruits and nuts of Spain. They bought dried peas and oatmeal 
in quantity. Sugar, a luxury, they could do without, using 
honey. From their garden they gathered grapes and apples 
and pears and doubtless fresh vegetables as well. Like ev- 
erybody else in England, except the poor, they seasoned their 
dishes with cloves, pepper, ginger, saffron, mustard, and other 

For spice was the sine qua non of fifteenth-century cook- 
ing. The popular notion that a mediaeval meal consisted 
mainly of a mighty joint from which diners dug great gob- 
bets of dripping meat is wide of the mark. Roast meat and 
roast game appeared on the table but it was usually cooked 
hi or served with a heavy sauce of spices, and for every such 
comparatively simple preparation in the cook books of the 
day, there are a dozen recipes for soft, mixed concoctions, 
stews and soups and morteux and pies and leches. Spice was 
undoubtedly used to conceal the taste of near-rotten meat; but 
this is hardly the whole story. Spice, after all, was to cooking 
what colour was to clothing; one of the chief spices of life 
was spice. 

Venison might be roasted or boiled, but it was more likely 
to appear in a stew called venison frumenty. The meat was 
leched cut into strips and put into a soup made of wheat 
boiled in milk to which the yolks of eggs, sugar, and salt 
were added. Another favourite soup, called blandissory, began 
with a mixture of ground almonds, beef brothor fish broth 
and sweet wine boiled. After this stock had been strained 
and boiled again, capon or fish, first pounded to pulp in a 
mortar and then 'tempered* with milk of almonds and sugar, 
was put into the pot. Blanched almonds were added and the 
soup served piping hot Tylettys en Galentyne' offered 
chopped roast-pork, fried onions, and beef broth which had 
been boiled with pepper, cinnamon, cloves and mace, to 
which was added a garnish of salt and bread steeped in vine- 
gar. *Maumenye Ryalle' was still more challenging: a mix- 
ture of strong wine, the best that a man may find', and fi a good 
quantity of powdered cinnamon' was fortified with soft pine- 
cones washed in wine, white sugar, and cloves, this concoction 


being set to boil; almonds, steeped in wine and then boiled in 
ale, were added; after which pulped brawn-for lack of 
partridge or capon-and ginger and salt and saffron and a 
sweet wine and a further quantity of sugar completed the disk 

Cook-books divide solider fare into leched meats, baked 
meats, and meats roasted or boiled. A popular leche, 'Brawn 
in Comfyte', was prepared by grinding fresh brawn in a mor- 
tar, tempering it with almond meat and straining into a pot, 
to be then boiled with sugar and cloves. The resultant mixture 
was thickened with cinnamon and ginger, put into a linen 
cloth and pressed into any shape desired. After being leched, 
this concoction was garnished with bare boar-ribs and served 
Baked meats were usually enclosed hi pastries cheerfully called 
'coffyns'. Fresh pork, for example, was pulped in a mortar, 
mixed with eggs, and strained into a pot, to which were added 
pine-cones and raisins; after being fried in fresh grease and 
spiced with pepper, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, saffron, and 
salt, this mixture was poured into a coffyn, and the cook 
must then 'plant the coffin about with dates and raisins and 
small birds or hard-boiled eggs, and endore [add a golden 
glaze] with yolks of eggs and saffron', after which the coffin 
went into the oven to be baked. Fish tarts were organized in 
much the same way, except that wine, fat eels, and cubebs 
were included. When certain birds such as pheasant and cer- 
tain fish, like lampreys, were to be roasted, they should be 
brought into the kitchen alive, bled, 'and allowed to die in 
their blood'. 

On festal occasions 'Cokyntryce' appeared upon the boards. 
In order to create this exotic, 'take a capon and scald him 
and draw him clean and smite him in two in the waist; take 
a pig and scald htm and draw Him in the same manner and 
smite him also in the waist; take a needle and a thread and 
sew the fore-part of the capon to the after-part of the pig 
and the fore-part of the pig to the hinder part of the capon; 
and then stuff them as thou stuffest a pig [Pig stuffing: eggs 
and breadcrumbs, salt, saffron, pepper, and mutton suet; 
boiled]; put him on a spit and roast Mm, and when he is 
enough, endore him with yolks of eggs and powdered ginger 


and saffron, then with the juice of parsley without; and then 
serve it forth for a royal meat'. 

Sweets sometimes took the form of cheesecakes, pancakes, 
fritters, often rather like their modern descendants; but other 
sweets offered mixtures of almond milk and rice flour and 
sugar and spices and fruits. People enjoyed a 'cold ioncate' 
(junket) of cream, rose-water, and sugar. Pastries like dou- 
cettes consisted of a melange of cream, egg yolks, sugar or 
honey, and saffron, poured into a hot coffin and 'served forth'. 
After discussing frumenty with porpoise 9 , a man might be 
ready for something more delicate like 'flowers of violet', 
which had been boiled and pressed and pounded into pulp, 
then tempered with almond milk and rice flour and sugar. 

When the remains of the meal had been cleared from the 
board, fruits and nuts and cheese were served. In his Book 
of Nurture, John Russell particularly recommends hard cheese 
to ward off the constipation likely to ensue from the eating 
of sweets. 

On ordinary days the King or a great lord was content with 
two courses offering a choice of perhaps three of four dishes 
each; gentry like the Pastons probably had a somewhat nar- 
rower menu. Formal dinners given by the Mayor of Bristol or 
York or by a baron or the upper gentry usually offered three 
courses at the high table, two courses for the hall at large. A 
typical menu for such a dinner ran like this: 

First course Second course 

Frumenty with venison Cokyntryce 

Maumenye Ryalle Blandissory 

Heads of boars Pigs roasted 

Fylettys en galentyne Herons roasted 

Roast swan Mutton tart 

Third course 

Snipe or small birds 
Fruit, wafers, sweet wine. 


* A !n?l e d f Cad i 00 ? ne a **** was borne to the table 
-a magnificent confection of sugar and eggs and pas*? 

n e 

shaped to represent such diverse and intricate 
George Saying the Dragon, Hounds Pulling 
or the Trinity watching over the Virgin MarV 

In the great households, hall and parlour were in the charge 
of a marshal. Master of protocol and overseer of feasts Z 
had to make sure that the hall was aired in the early moramg, 
noshes freshened, tables and forms cleaned, and, if necessary 
the hangings beaten. As people began coming into the hafl 
for dinner, the marshal indicated their proper places at table, 
according to rank, and decided what strangers should be ho 
ourably entertained. He kept an eye on the butler, who laid 
the cloth on the high table, set the mighty salt cellar just a 
little below the middle of the board, and dealt out trenchers 
and napkins for the master and his guests. With great ceie- 
mony-making appropriate flourishes with his hands and ar- 
raying towels and napkins in intricate designs-the butler then 
arranged bread and drink upon the table. Only the master was 
served with new bread; the others at his table had bread one 
day old; those in the lower hall, bread four days old; and 
trenchers were made from bread four days old If the* host 
were of blood royal, the butler and sewer went through the 
rites of assay-now honorific-the butler using 'comets* of 
bread to dip delicately into the viands and pouring the wine 
into the cover of the cup in order to taste it The end of the 
dinner brought an elaborate ritual of basin-proffering for the 
washing of hands, removal of dishes, and placement of the 
surnap, which must be trailed' along the board in a manner 
minutely prescribed. 'Broken meats 5 , that is, food left upon 
the trenchers, were deposited in the alms dish. 

The most famous banquet of the age was the feast given 
by the Kingmaker's brother George to celebrate his en- 
thronization as Archbishop of York and to remind the realm 
that, although King Edward had dared many Elizabeth 
Woodvffle against Warwick's wishes, the House of NevflJe 
could outsoar if it chose the splendour of the House of Yodc. 
The Earl of Warwick himself acted as Steward for the oo- 
casion; brother John, then Earl of Northumbedand, was 


Treasurer; while Edward's favourite, Lord Hastings, served 
as Comptroller. Sixty-two cooks laboured to prepare 104 oxen, 
6 wild bulls, some 4,000 sheep, calves, and pigs, 500 stags, 
400 swans, and a galaxy of other meats, which guests by the 
thousandssome 6,000 according to report washed down 
with 300 tuns of ale, 100 tuns of wine, and a pipe of ypocras. 
Then came 13,000 sweet dishes followed by an array of 
'sotelties', one of which depicted Samson pulling down the 
pillars. Dukes and duchesses, earls, countesses, abbots and 
deans and lords and ladies, mayors, judges were seated, table 
by table, in chamber, gallery or hall, according to the lore of 
rank; and in addition to lesser officers who brought the dishes, 
the Archbishop was served by a gentleman usher, marshal, 
butler, sewer, carver, cupbearer, and chaplain. 

The arts of feasting were conspicuously displayed at fu- 
neral obsequies; and these ceremonies themselves, like fur- 
nishings and costume and hospitality, tended in the fifteenth 
century to flaunt the worldly status of a sublunary being 
rather than to express the laying in earth of a tired son of 
Holy Church, the return to his Maker of a worm of God. 

The ceremony began with a Placebo, or vespers service, 
on the eve of the burial, followed then or early next morning 
by the Dirige, funeral Matins. On the day of the funeral a 
procession of kinfolk, Mends, fellow-gildsmen, clerks, hired 
mourners as grand as purse could afford bore the bier to 
the church for Requiem Mass and interment, after which 
came a dinner for all the participants except one. Poor men 
and children, furnished with mourning gowns, held tapers 
or torches about the hearse during the ceremonies. At the 
Dirige for John Paston the blaze of torches made such a smoke 
that windows had to be removed from the church in order to 
let in air. Attendance of the clergy was not left to piety or 
friendship. Fees were frequently offered to all friars, monks, 
nuns, priests who would ornament the service and lift their 
voices in chant 

Quite often the pomp of funeral services was not only 
appreciated by the family but vicariously enjoyed by the 
subject himself before his death, as in making his will he 
precisely marshalled his last rites. John Baret of Bury lov- 


ingly stage-managed every moment of his burial: 'I will have 
at my Dirige and Mass 5 men ciad in black in worship of 
Jesus's 5 wounds and 5 women clad in white in worship of 
Our Lady's 5 joys, each of them holding a torch of clean 
wax', they each to 'have 2d and their meat. I will that on 
the day of my interment be sung a Mass of prick-song at Saint 
Mary's altar in worship of Our Lady at 7 of the clock by the 
morning or soon after [and] that the Mass of Requiem may 
begin forthwith when that is done, to speed the time for the 
sermon. . . . The which Mass of Our Lady I will the Saint 
Mary priest keep in a white vestment which is ready made 
against the time, bought and paid for, with a remembrance 
of my arms and my "reason" [motto] thereto, Grace me 
govern. . . . Item, I will that each man that sings {Hick-song 
on the day of my interment at Our Lady's Mass have 2d and 
the players at the organs 2d and each child Id and that they 
[be] prayed to dinner the same day. Item I will the Alder- 
man [Mayor of Bury], burgesses, gentlemen and gentle- 
women have a dinner the same day that I am interred, with 
other folks of worship, priests, and good friends, and also 
my tenants, to which I am much beholden to do for them 
all, for they have been to me right gentle and good at afl 
times, and therefore I will each of them 4d to drink when 
they pay their farm [rent], . . . Item I wffl the prisoners in 
the gaol have one day's bread, meat, and drink, and each 
person Id, and the keeper to have 2d*. 

The funeral expenses of Thomas Stonor amounted to 74* 
John Paston's must have been still higher, for he died at an 
inn in London. A priest and a woman took charge of the 
bier, and twelve poor men bearing torches walked about the 
cart as it jolted for six days over the roads from London to 
Norwich. The little cortege was met outside the dry gates 
by a procession of friars from the Four Orders. Dirige was 
sung at St. Peter's Hungate in the presence of the same friars, 
38 priests, 39 boys in surplices, 23 sisters from Normals 
Hospital, and 26 clerks, as well as the Prioress of Carro* 
and her maid and an anchoress. Another procession then 
bore the body to Bromholm Priory, near Paston, where final 
rites were held. The funeral dinner must have accomnxxJated 


many of John Paston's friends and well-wishers, for two men 
spent three days flaying the animals to be consumed, and 
the guests were offered tens of geese and chickens and capons, 
41 pigs, 49 calves, 34 lambs, 22 sheep, 10 oxen, milk and 
cream by the gallon, and ale and beer by the barrel. 

The voice of the century sounds most strongly, however, 
in the increasing elaboration of memorial services that fol- 
lowed interment and in the emphasis on Masses to be said 
for the soul of the deceased. The ceremony of the Thirty- 
Day* or 'Month's Mind' was becoming almost as grand as 
the burial itself. Some people made provision for bells to 
be tolled day and night during the interval and for tens or 
even hundreds of Masses to be said by relays of priests. The 
*Year-Mind* or obit was celebrated with almost as much 
pomp as the Thirty-Day. Gentry and merchants arranged 
in their wills for chantries. 5 Sir John Fastolfe hoped to estab- 
lish in Caister Castle a College where seven priests and seven 
poor men would sing for his soul perpetually; but most 
wealthy folk, lords or mayors, were content with a chantry 
of one or two priests. These might perform their services at 
an altar erected as part of the tomb, and thus came into being 
those delicate creations in stone which are to be found in 
many of the cathedral and parish churches of England. Peo- 
ple of middling means endowed a priest to sing Masses at 
an altar in the parish church for a term of years, often five 
or seven. 

Numerous wills specify that when a chantry priest said 
Mass for the soul of the deceased, he must without fail iden- 
tify the subject of the service-'and after the Gospel to stand 
at the altar's end and rehearse John Baret's name openly 9 . 
Men hoped for heaven but they also envisaged with satisfac- 
tion their names forever ringing on the dear damp air of 

Other attitudes can be discerned, however. In the towns 
particularly, at least a few men were beginning to react 
against the worldly pomp in which deatihi was swathed. 

*The term chantry originally referred simply to the provision for the 
service but has since become associated with the place where the service 
was held. 


Thomas Betson, gentlest of merchants, requested the costs 
of my burying to be done not outrageously, but soberly and 
discreetly and in a mean [moderate] manner, that It may be 
unto the worship and laud of Almighty God*. Though the 
funeral of many an alderman filled the streets with banners 
and tapers and trains of poor men and ranks of singing clergy 
and though a merchant like Sir William Taylor ordered that 
'only - 100* be spent on his obsequies, Sir Thomas Hill di- 
rected that his 'body be brought over earth in honest wise 
according to my degree without any pomp or blandise of 
the world. ... I utterly forbid any Month's Mind to be kept 
solemnly for me after the guise of the world . . .'. A mercer 
wrote emphatically, *I warn you, I will none Month's Mind 
have.' Decades before the Reformation, Puritan London was 
already beginning to take shape. 


IN the Yorkist Age almost everybody married. A spinster was 
a woman who spun yarn; a bachelor was an unliveried mem- 
ber of a London gild. Except for nuns, and widows who took 
the order of chastity, women married early and married again 
as often as they lost husbands. By the time Grace de Saleby, 
a great heiress, had reached the age of eleven, she was joined 
to her third husband who had paid 300 marks for her. 

Town labourers and peasants of the vill loved where they 
looked and married where they loved. Mak and Tib were 
freer as well as poorer than their betters. Tib watched him 
play football on the village green; he noticed when he walked 
with her to church on Whitsun how well daisies suited her 
dark hair. Perhaps on a summer morning he gave her a green 
gown and then the banns were cried and they were married. 

Occasionally love also had its way at the apex of society. 
The Scots king, James I, while a prisoner for long years in 
England, fell in love with Lady Jane Beaufort, married her, 
and wrote The Kingis Quair to celebrate his passion. Young 
Edward IV, entranced by the beauty of the widowed Eliza- 
beth Woodville, wedded her secretly at her family's country 
seat on May Day of 1464; but, as we have seen, his subjects 
grumbled and grouched that he had chosen beneath his dig- 
nity and failed to strengthen the realm by a foreign alliance. 

In the fifteenth century all the upper ranks of English so- 
ciety held to the conviction that marriage represented an 
instrument of worldly advancement Townsmen and gentry 
formed one vast web of wife-and-husband hunters; parents, 
brothers and sisters, relatives, friends joined in the chase. A 


wealthy knight or merchant was scarcely interred before esti- 
mates of the widow's financial position went flying by word 
of mouth and letter through many a family network. 

The business of marriage often began early, for a boy was 
considered to be of age at fourteen, a girl at twelve. Child 
marriages were not uncommon. St. Stephen's Chapel, West- 
minster, was the scene of a brilliant royal wedding in Jan- 
uary, 1478, when King Edward IV gave away the bride, 
Anne Mowbray, aged six, to his younger son, Rkhard, Duke 
of York, aged four. John Rigmardin, three years of age, made 
his way to the church in the arms of a priest, who coaxed him 
to utter the words of the marriage ceremony; in the midst of 
the service the boy announced that he would learn no more 
that day, whereupon the priest answered, *You must speak a 
little more, and then go play you*. A sadder experience befell 
James Ballard, eleven, who was married to his wife, Anne, at 
'ten of the clock in the night without the consent of any of 
his Mends, by one Sir Roger Blakey, then curate of Colne. 
. . . And the morrow after, the same James declared unto 
his uncle that the said Anne, being a big damsel and mar- 
riageable, had enticed him with two apples to go with her to 
Colne and to marry her*. Mistress Elizabeth Bridge, thirteen, 
complained that her bridegroom, John Bridge, about thir- 
teen, never used her lovingly in so much that the first night 
they were married the said John would eat no meat at supper, 
and when it was bedtime, the said John did weep to go boose 
with his father. Yet nevertheless by his father's entreating and 
by the persuasion of the priest, the said John did come to bed 
to Elizabeth 9 who made this deposition "far in the nigfcrt; 
and there lay still till in the morning in such sort as the de- 
ponent might take unkindness with him; for he ky with bis 
back toward her all night . . .* 

Wardships were bought and sold like any other iavest- 
ments; a guardian had the use of his ward's fortune until 
the child came of age and not infrequently purchased the 
wardship in order to marry an heiress to his son oc provide 
a husband with broad lands for his daughter. Some of tfeese 
transactions showed the darker side of cavetoasaess and left 
wounds upon the child's mind that never healed. Young peo- 


pie hardly entered upon puberty were married off not only 
by guardians but by parents as well with no apparent con- 
sideration for the child's happiness. A correspondent of the 
Fastens, John Wyndham of Felbridge, who had fallen in love 
with the widow of Sir John Heveningham, announced that if 
she would have him he would pay off her husband's debts of 
300 marks, and he proposed to get the money by selling his 
son in the marriage market for 600 marks. Stephen Scrope 
declared bitterly that his father, Sir John Fastolfe, had sold 
his wardship for 500 marks to Chief Justice Gascoigne, in 
whose household he was treated so negligently that S I took 
sickness that kept me a thirteen or fourteen years ensuing, 
whereby I am disfigured in my person and shall be whilst I 
live'. Scrope added, 'He bought me and sold me as a beast, 
against all right and law, to mine hurt more than 1,000 
marks'. The Church, which tolerated marriage only as an 
inferior form of Christian living, paid small heed to the 
dangers of child marriage except to require that the principals 
of such a marriage have the right to repudiate it when they 
came of age, which, considering the years at which boys 
and girls were held to have come of age, was but a frail safe- 
guard. The law did little better for wards: upon reaching 
their majority, they might sue their guardian on grounds of 
'disparagement' if they had been matched below their degree. 
On the other hand, one of the tenderest courtships of this 
or any period took place between Thomas Betson, when he 
was already a Merchant of the Staple, and Lady Stonor*s 
daughter by her first husband, Kathryn Riche, who was proba- 
bly no more than twelve or thirteen when she was affianced. 
Betson expressed his exquisite feeling for the little girl he 
was one day to marry in a letter he wrote her when he was on 
one of his business trips to Calais: 'Mine own heartily be- 
loved Cousin Kathryn, I recommend me unto you with all 
the inwardness of mine heart. And now lately ye shall under- 
stand that I received a token from you, the which was and is 
to me right heartily welcome. I understand right well that ye 
be in good health of body and merry at heart. And I pray 
God heartily to his pleasure to continue the same: for it is to 
me very great comfort that ye so be, so help me Jhesu, And 


if ye would be a good eater of your meat always, that ye 
might wax and grow fast to be a woman, ye should make me 
the gladdest man of the world, by my troth: for when I re- 
member your favour and your sad [earnest] loving dealing 
to mewards, forsooth ye make me even very glad and joyous 
in my heart: and on the other side again, when I remember 
your young youth, and see well that ye be no eater of your 
meat, the which should help you greatly in waxing, forsooth 
then ye make me very heavy again. And therefore, I pray 
you, my own sweet cousin, even as you love me, to be merry 
and to eat your meat like a woman. And if ye so will do for 
my love, look what ye will desire of me, whatsoever it be, 
and by my troth I promise you by the help of our Lord to per- 
form it to my power. 

'I can no more say now, but at my coming home, I will tell 
you much more between you and me and God before. And 
whereas ye full womanly and like a lover remember me with 
manifold recommendation in divers manners, ye shall un- 
derstand that with good heart and good will I receive and take 
to myself the one half of them; and the other half with hearty 
love and favour I send them to you again; and over that I send 
you the blessing that our Lady gave her dear son, and ever 
well to fare, 

'I pray you greet well my horse, and pray Mm to give you 
four of his years to help you withal, and I will at my coming 
home give frim four of my years and four horseloaves till [as] 
amends. Tell him that I prayed him so. ... I pray you, 
gentle cousin, commend me to the Clock and pray him to 
amend his unthrifty manners, for he strikes ever in undue 
time, and he will be ever afore and that is a shrewd condi- 
tion. I trust to you that he shall amend against mine coming, 
the which shall be shortly with all hands and all feet, with 
God's grace. . . . And Almighty Jhesu make you a good 
woman, and send you many good years and long to live in 
health and virtue to his pleasure. At great Calais on this 
side of the sea, the first day of June, when every man was 
gone to his dinner, and the clock smote nine, and all our 
household cried after me and bade me come down, come 


down to dinner at once! And what answer I gave them, ye 
know it of old. I send you this ring for a token.* 

As Kathryn grew towards womanhood, Thomas's affection 
seems to have blossomed into love. At times he showed 
himself properly jealous. *I am wroth with Kathryn,' he com- 
plained to her mother, 'because she sendeth me no writing. I 
have [written] to her divers times and for lack of answer I 
wax weary; she might get a secretary if she would and if she 
will not, it shall put me to less labour to answer her letters 
again/ On Trinity Sunday of 1478, two years after he had 
written the letter from Calais, he confessed to Kathryn's 
mother: *I remember her full oft, God know it. I dreamed 
once she was 30 winter of age, and when I woke I wished she 
had been but 20; and so by likelihood I am sooner like to 
have my wish than my dream. . . .' 

Within a few weeks the marriage had been arranged for 
the late summer. But now suddenly Thomas Betson became a 
harried male. Because he was in London and the Stonors in 
the country, Kathryn's mother thrust upon him the terrifying 
responsibility of seeing to her trousseau. 'Madam, I can little 
skiH to do anything that longeth to the matter ye wot of [i.e., 
the marriage]; therefore I must beseech your ladyship to send 
me your advice how I shall be demeaned in such things as 
shall belong unto my cousin Kathryn, and how I shall pro- 
vide for them: she must have girdles, 3 at least, and how 
they shall be made I know not. And many other things she 
must have; ye know well what they be, in faith I know not: 
by my troth, I would it were done, [rather] than more than 
it shall cost' 

By the end of the summer Thomas had married his 
Kathryn at last, and it appears that they settled down to a 
happy life together. When he died eight years later (1486) 
Kathryn had borne him two sons and three daughters. She 
married again, and by her second husband, William Welbeck, 
a haberdasher, she had another son. But on her death in 1510 
she asked to be buried by the side of her first love, Thomas 
Betson, in AH Hallows Barking. 

Hxxnas Betson had a gentler heart than most, then and 


now, and his wooing and marriage are hardly typical though 
certainly not unique. Love-liking could blossom within the 
social framework of the arranged marriage. Young men and 
young women, schooled to the system, enjoyed the marriage 
hunt; no less than their parents and friends, they seemed able 
to couple financial considerations with romantic interest 
Those who made advantageous matches considered themselves 
fortunate. Falling hi love happened after the wedding cere- 

Parents of a girl often refused to contract a marriage for 
her that did not meet with her approval and sometimes lis- 
tened to her desires. After the arrangements for dowry and 
jointure had been agreed upon, or looked to be so, the young 
people were given a limited opportunity to become ac- 
quainted with each other and discover if their feelings 
marched with their finances. When Sir John Fasten ap- 
proached Lady Boleyn, wife of the Lord Mayor, about one 
of her daughters for his brother John, she was not impressed 
by the position of the Fastens; but *what if he and she can 
agree', she wrote, *I will not let [hinder] it, but I will never 
advise her thereto hi no wise'. 

Yet, despite these gentler considerations, worldly prospects 
dominated the marriage hunt When a young London mercer 
of no standing proclaimed his engagement to the widow of a 
wealthy vintner he was felt by the Mercers Company to have 
brought off a magnificent coup Svhich is a worship to the 
fellowship, a young man out of the livery to be preferred to 
such a rich marriage' and he was promptly promoted to the 

Some of the great fortunes of the city of London came 
about when matrimony produced a merger of business inter- 
ests. Young George Mond, a grocer, put his hands on nearly 
.3,000 by means of a marriage; another grocer, the famous 
Mayor John Wells, took for his second wife a widow who 
brought him a dowry of 764 and an equal amount in trust 
funds for her children with which she was permitted to trade. 
Wealthy city widows were besieged with suitors, and it ap- 
pears that some of them were not above playing a female 
version of Volpone. 


A draper, thinking he had safely completed a marriage 
contract with a widow, though the marriage itself she post- 
poned, lavished his time and his money for three years in 
conducting her business affairs, 'intending it should have 
been for his own weal and profit in time coming*. He gen- 
erously spent more than 20, with this and that, on her and 
her friends, and to keep her heart warm he loaded her with 
gifts, of which, however, he kept a careful record. 1 

After this draper who turns out to be George Bulstrode, 
perhaps the son of draper William who did so much business 
with Sir John Howard sailed off gallantly to Spain to buy 
400 of merchandise for his widow, she began to smile upon 
a rival; and when he came home she refused to have anything 
more to do with him, *not fearing the damnation of her soul'. 
This sad story came out after she had died, worth 2,000, 
and Bulstrode sued to collect what he felt was owing to him. 

Marriage was such a nice business of mating destinies and 
finances that a good deal of bargaining enlivened the 'court- 
ship'. The friends of the young man wanted the largest pos- 
sible dowry; the parents of the girl were concerned about her 
jointure and sought to pin down the amount of land or 

s d 

1 *a pair of great beads gauded with gold 2 2 

a great ring of fine gold with a great pointed diamond 10 

a small chain of gold with a little Agnus Dei of gold 3 6 

a signet of gold with her arms graven in stone and a ruby 

and emerald stone set in same 326 

a great ring of fine gold set with a "Turkesshe" which I 

had made for her in Seville 352 

a popinjay which I might have sold to my Lady Hungerf ord 

for 5 marks 268 

for seven plight and a quarter of fine lawn 3 12 6 

for six eJls of fine Holland cloth for kerchiefs 1 16 

for a fur of fine budge 2 2 

for 18 "pampflions" at 20d and 60 "tavflleons" at 2d 2 
for a Venice corse of gold and a Seville corse and ribbons 

and laces 158 

for divers dainties as figs and raisins, dates, almonds, 

prunes, capers, sugar and other spices, lampreys, "con- 

ervais", pomegranates and oranges 6 

for ypocras which she caused me to make for her and for 

her friends at divers times, 8 gallons; for a hogshead of 

white wine; m all 2 11 8 

for year's gifts [New Year's gifts] at divers years to her 

servants and to her friends and kinsfolk 1 18 8' 


money which the young man's family were prepared to give 
the couple. William Nightingale, a draper, secured with his 
bride 100, a gold ring, a grey fur, a horse, and a 34-year 
lease of a quay. A London goldsmith marrying a St Albans 
girl with a dowry of 40 settled on her property worth 10 

Gazing upon the animated scene of this marriage market 
and not realizing perhaps that the English were more reserved 
than his own countrymen, the Venetian diplomat concluded 
that the people of England lacked hearts. 'Although they are 
very much inclined to carnal passion, I never have noticed 
anyone, at court or amongst the lower orders, to be in love; 
whence one must necessarily conclude either that the English 
are the most discreet lovers in the world or that they are in- 
capable of love. I say this of the men, for I understand it is 
quite the contrary with the women, who are very violent in 
their passions. Howbeit the English keep a very jealous guard 
over their wives, though anything may be compensated in the 
end by the power of money. . . . 

1 saw one day that I was at court a handsome man of about 
18 years of age, the brother of the Duke of Suffolk, who* as 
I understood, had been left very poor. . . . This youth was 
boarded out to a widow of 50 with a fortune, as I was a*- 
formed, of 50,000 crowns [10,000]; and this old woman 
knew how to play her cards so well that he was content to 
become her husband and patiently to waste Ifae flower of his 
beauty with her, hoping soon to enjoy her great wealth with 
some handsome young lady- . .* 

Was the Italian right about the lack of romantic courtship 
in England? There was certainly no lack of love literature. 
English men and women doted on chivalric romances; the 
lyrical poems of the age sing plangently of love; and in the 
ballads star-crossed lovers drive violently towards passionate 
ends. By hearsay, at least, the age knew the madness and 
nobility of love. Perhaps most young men and women were 
content to sigh over the former and to seek the latter in tbe 
sensible marriage their parents arranged for them. ^ 

Yet Mayor William Gregory commented in his dmomcie 
upon the slaughter at Towton Field (March, 1461), 'Many 


a lady lost her best beloved in that battle'. If this sentiment 
seems to sound a merely conventional note, the same can 
hardly be said of the moral which Gregory draws from the 
romantic marriage of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: 
*Now take heed what love may do, for love will not nor may 
not cast [forecast] no fault nor peril in nothing.' Of the 
half a dozen or so marriages of which there is more than 
passing mention in the Paston letters, three turn out to be 
fervent love matches, and not one of them developed within 
the accepted framework of parental arrangements. 

Crimes of passion were by no means rare. Writing of the 
Yorkist victory at Northampton in July of 1460, Gregory 
considered the fate of a single man worth as much space as 
the whole battle. 'And that good knight Sir William Lucy that 
dwelt beside Northampton heard the gunshot, and came unto 
the field to have helped the King, but the field was done, ere 
that he came; and one of the Staffords was aware of his com- 
ing, and loved that knight's wife and hated him, and anon 
caused his death. 9 

A Yeoman of the King's Chamber, a man named Fazaker- 
ley, was sent to Ludlow to arrest certain of the Duke of 
York's retinue, including one Sharpe. Fazakerley and Sharpe's 
wife had been lovers. When the officer of the Crown tried to 
cany out his mission, he was slain by the enraged husband, 
and the commons of Ludlow rose in support of the deed. 
A tailor's apprentice became so miserably lovelorn that his 
master haled him into the gild court, where he was sternly 
reproved because he had wasted his time falling in love and 
*used the company of a woman which was to his great loss 
and hindering for as much as he was so affectionate and re- 
sorted daily unto her'. In the reign of Henry VH another ap- 
prentice, 'having an inward love to a young woman and the 
young woman having the same unto him', was rash enough to 
reveal his marriage plans and on his wedding day found him- 
self clapped into prison by his master. He petitioned the 
Chancellor for his freedom on the grounds that he had 
served seven years of his apprenticeship and that this cruel 
prohibition of his marriage was 'contrary to the laws of God 
and causeth much fornication and adultery to be within the 


said city'. A draper's apprentice was imprisoned after he 
had made a runaway marriage with a silk-woman. In gen- 
eral, however, young people in the business world of London 
married much later than the sons and daughters of the gen- 
try; for in the great companies apprenticeship lasted ten years 
and a young man was unable to seek a wife until he was 
twenty-four or twenty-five. Furthermore, wards, who were 
under the protection of the municipal court of orphans, seem 
to have been much more carefully and suitably placed in 
marriage than children whose wardships were purchased by 
lords and gentry. 

Despite, then, the cynical observations of the Venetian dip- 
lomat and the ubiquitous pursuit of the marriage hunt, love 
was a force to be reckoned with. Most parents of the time 
undoubtedly believed that once their children were settled 
as befitted their station, they would find love within the bounds 
of marriage. It appears that young men and women did so. 
The wills of the period reveal expressions of affection and 
trust on the part of the husband for the wife, who frequently 
is appointed as her husband's executor with fuH power to act 
as she thinks best. Letters tell the same story. Defeated in 
battle and about to be executed by Warwick the Kingmaker, 
the gallant William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, addressed his 
last worldly thoughts to his wife: Tray for me and take the 
said order [of widowhood] that ye promised me, as ye had 
in my life my heart and love/ Though re-marriage was the 
general rule for widows, a number of them did take a solemn 
oath before a bishop to live henceforth in chastity. 

The marriage hunt among the gentry is zealously pursued 
through the Cely letters and the Stonor letters and the Paston 

While young Richard Cely was buying wool in the Cots- 
wolds in April of 1482, his favourite dealer, William Mid- 
winter, after discovering that he was not In any way of mar- 
riage' told him about a young gentlewoman ^^ J a ^*f s 
name is Lemeryke and her mother is dead and she shaH <te- 
pend by her mother 40 a year as they say and her father is 

titie greatest ruler as richest man in that country and there 


have been great gentlemen to see her and would have her'. 
Richard said that he was interested indeed. When next he 
came to Northleach, Midwinter informed him that if he would 
'tarry Mayday' he 'should have a sight of the young gentle- 
woman and I said I would tarry with a goodwill'. 

The rendezvous was naturally set for Northleach Church. 
Master Lemeryke, a Justice of the Peace, was to have sat 
that day at Northleach but sent one of his clerks instead and 
tactfully took himself out of the way to Winchcombe. Per- 
haps Richard was feeling a little nervous, for when he went 
to the church he had his friend William Breton, the wool 
packer, by his side and kept Breton with him throughout the 
day. 'I and William Breton were saying Matins when they 
came into church,* the young lady and her stepmother, 'and 
when Matins was done they went to a kinswoman of the young 
gentlewoman and I sent to them a pottle [half gallon] of 
white romney and they took it thankfully for they had 
come a mile on foot that morning. And when Mass was done, 
I came and welcomed them and kissed them, and they 
thanked me for the wine and prayed me to come to dinner 
with them and I excused me and they made me promise to 
drink with them after dinner and I sent them to dinner a gal- 
lon of wine and they sent me a heronsew roast and after dinner 
I came and drank with them and took William Breton with 
me and we had right good communication' which is not sur- 
prising since the way had been so well smoothed with wine. 
The person pleaseth me well, as by the first communication. 
She is young, little, and very well favoured and witty, and 
the country speaks much good of her. All this matter abideth 
the coming of her father to London that we may understand 
what sum he will depart with and how he likes me. He will be 
here within three weeks.' Richard concluded by praying his 
brother George to 'send me a letter how ye think, by this 

Wine and May Day and the comely face of Mistress 
Lemeryke would appear to have got the courtship off to a 
propitious start. But perhaps the father did not find Richard 
a good match or offered too small a dowry, for nothing fur- 
ther is heard of the matter. Only ten days later, the young 


man reported to his brother that new prospects were open- 
ing up: 'Sir Harry Bryan, the bringer of this, labours me sore 
to go and see Rawson's daughter; I am beholden to him for 
his labour.' Perhaps the pretty face he had seen hi Northleach 
was still before his eye, for he added 1 have many things in 
my mind but I have no leisure to write, ye may understand 
part by my letter that I sent you before this'. 

The hunt to provide Thomas Stonor's son and heir Wil- 
liam with a fitting bride unfolds a cast of characters reminis- 
cent of Ben Jonson's comedies of humour: the stein father, 
too much a figure of awe to his son; William himself, diffident,' 
and rather easily discouraged; and the mainspring of action, 
the bustling family friend, ripe with stratagems to aid love's 
cause. The Stonor correspondence reveals even more clearly 
than the Paston letters the mixture of financial bargaining and 
amorous language, the birth of love from the womb of 
worldly goods. The delicate balance of the two forces was 
adjusted by an inner logic, known to everyone then but since 
well nigh lost. 

The game began with a jubilant communication from the 
family friend and kinsman, Thomas Mull, to Thomas Stonor: 
young William 'hath been with a full goodly gentlewoman 
and commoned [talked] with her after love's lore: and for 
certain I know that each of them is verily well content of 
other'. After an analysis of the lady's financial position, 
Mull urged Thomas Stonor to be 'good father to my cousin 
in counselling, helping, and preferring after your heart's 
pleasure: for and [if] I should marry, I would he should 
choose for me*. He concludes, 'As it is said, there is of late 
fallen to my mistress's father 300 marks more after the death 
of my Lady Kyriell*. Not long after, young William reported 
to his father, 'I have comfortable demeanour of my mistress, 
but [except] as to the very purpose, yet I hope well*. 

The lady began to indicate somewhat more emphatically, 
however, the amount of jointure she expected, and young 
William drew off, abashed. Thomas Mull, alarmed at Wil- 
liam's timidity, dispatched a letter to him rich in the biaxial 
lore of fifteenth-century love the lore that governed life, not 
literature: * Whereas I feel by your writing that my mistress 


hath not that goodwill of you as sometime ye owed her, sir, 
ye may owe her right good will, howbeit that it be not in so 
hearty wise as ye did before.' Mull continues in this vein of 
nice distinctions: Had she 'said to you these words, "Sir, I 
would not have you, but if so be that I may have a < 100 or 
200 marks with you in jointure", then ye might conceive that 
she had loved your land better than yourself. But I under- 
stand that the words were these: "Sir, I may have 300 marks 
in jointure, and I to take the less when I may have the more, 
my friends would think me not wise etc: howbeit your father 
will not give me so much, yet let him do well to you." In 
which words I understand no utter nay. But and ye in your 
mind conceive that she has given you an utter nay, then never 
speak more of the matter. . . . 

'But [if] the case were so that she would be agreeable to 
have you with 40 or 80 marks jointure, would your heart 
then love as ye have done before? This question would I know 
of you, for and I know your disposition on this behalf, I trow 
to God all this love and matter of love would be revived again 
in short season. Since your departure she hath been vexed 
and troubled with the throes of love more fervently in her 
mind than ye have been since vexed with her sayings. . . . 
She may revolve at her liberty but without controlling every- 
thing that longeth to love's dance; for though the flame of the 
fire of love may not break out so that it may be seen, yet 
the heat of love is never the less but rather hotter. I dare de- 
pose for her that the sharp and unwary changes from thought 
to thought and oft remembrance of the troubly waves of love 
have so pushed her to and fro in her own mind, that she de- 
sireth as sore after relief, as far as she may for shame, as the 
man in the water desireth to be relieved from drowning in the 
peril of the sea. But danger [pride] and shame will not suffer 
her to speak it without it be so that there be some new mo- 
tion made to her etc.' Thomas Mull concludes happily, The 
means whereof I have encompassed in my mind, which by 
the mercy of God I will attempt, if it so be ye can be pleased 
that way, and that in short time.' 

He soon developed a complete plan of campaign, as he 
explained to William's father. The instrument, a priest who 


had entree to the lady's household, agreed to forward the 
cause of love by raising the subject of William Stonor and 
noting the lady's reaction. When the priest had been with 
her four days, Mull planned to send her a letter; the priest 
would call the bearer 'cousin' so that he would be bidden to 
stay under the lady's roof. After she had read the letter, 'if 
the priest feel her verily pliable, the messenger shall speak 
with her himself. To make sure the secret agent played his 
part well, Mull fortified him with a memorandum detailing 
just what he was to say to the lady. All that was now neces- 
sary, thought Mull, was for Thomas Stonor to buck up his 
son: 'for God's sake, let him walk with you, and give words 
of good comfort, and be good father unto him. For, sir, he 
is disposed to be a muser and a studier' a disposition which 
the father should do his best to eradicate. 

But it all went up in smoke, how or why there is no know- 
ing. The next recorded episode in the hunt occurs two years 
later. This time William's younger brother Thomas was urg- 
ing him on, though humbly admitting that on the last occasion 
he had tried to help his brother in the lists of love he had 
made a mess of it. The lady in question was probably Eliza- 
beth Ryche, who became William's first wife. 'Brother Stonor, 
I never longed so sore to speak with you as I do now, mar- 
velling greatly that ye be long hence, remembering how 
greatly in conceit [high in favour] ye stand in London with 
a gentlewoman and the great labour that is made for her 
against you: and greatly it is noised that but ye beware she 
shall be taken from you. ... I would not for my horse and 
harness and all my other goods that in this matter ye took a 

Having wedded his wealthy London widow, William now 
encumbered with exhortations his brother Thomas who, tak- 
ing part in Edward IV's bloodless invasion of France hi 1475, 
got himself in some sort of scrape at Calais. Thomas was 
grateful for his brother's solicitude but not for the advice: 
'Sir, I thank you for your good counsel, and certainly I think 
to do thereafter: but ye may thank my sister, your wife, that 
ye be of so good disposition to advise me to leave all folly, for 
that comes of the holy sacrament of wedlock, which I pray 


Jhesu send me soon to after I come home: for I fear me that 
till that time that that yoke of wedlock lie in my neck as it 
does now in yours, youth shall run in me as it has done in 
you aforetime. . . .' 

After his shy beginning, William Stonor became an adept 
at the marriage hunt. On the death of Elizabeth, he married a 
West Country woman with broad lands; and when she died a 
year later, he won for his third bride Anne Neville, an heiress 
who had seen much trouble in her life. She was the daughter 
of the Kingmaker's brother John, Marquess Montagu, who, 
like Warwick, was slain at Barnet. Shortly after their mar- 
riage, William Stonor packed her off to Taunton so that she 
might impress his new friend the Marquess of Dorset, son 
to Queen Elizabeth. Anne wrote to her husband a lonely 
letter which, one can only hope, moved his heart: 'Sir, I rec- 
ommend me unto you hi my most hearty wise, right joyful to 
hear of your health: liketh you to know, at the writing of this 
bill I was in good health, thinking long since I saw you, and 
if I had known that I should have been this long time from 
you I would have been much leather than I was to have come 
into this far country. But I trust it shall not be long ere I shall 
see you here, and else I would be sorry, in good faith. . . t 
She signed herself wistfully, 'Your new wife Anne Stonor 9 . 

In the Paston letters the marriage hunt is pursued through 
three generations. Early in the fifteenth century William 
Paston, the yeoman's son who rose to be a Justice, secured 
the hand of Agnes Berry, daughter of a well-to-do knight. It 
is impossible to imagine Agnes as a gay or affectionate girl. 
She is always the fearsome matriarch or more tactfully, a 
woman of pronounced character tough and acquisitive as the 
times themselves. About 1440 she and Justice William 
matched their eldest son John with the heiress of a nearby 
squire, Margaret Mauteby, who joined the manor of Mauteby 
to the growing Paston lands. 

The marriage hunt opens nine years later when old Agnes 
and her son John were seeking a marriage for his sister Eliza- 
beth, a pursuit which, for a reason never made clear, went 
on for a decade. The family were considering Stephen Scrope, 


a widower, son of Sir John Fastolfe's wife by a former mar- 
riage. Scrope has earned a small place in histories of fifteenth- 
century literature by his translations of Cicero and Christine 
de Pisan; he was then some fifty years of age and disfigured, 
as we have seen from his own words. Agnes sought to over- 
come any scruples or doubts John might have: 'My cousin 
Clere thinketh that it were a folly to forsake him unless ye 
knew of another as good or better; and I have essayed your 
sister, and I found her never so willing to none as she is to 
him, if it be so that his land stand clear.' She gave John an 
additional prod, 'Sir Harry Inglose is right busy about Scrope 
for one of his daughters'. 

But a secret letter Elizabeth Clere then wrote to John Pas- 
ton explains why young Elizabeth might be ready to give her- 
self to an ugly widower almost three times her age. 'She was 
never in so great sorrow as she is nowadays, for she may 
not speak with no man, whosoever come, nor with servants 
of her mother's', without Agnes making nasty insinuations. 
'And she hath since Easter been beaten once in the week or 
twice, and sometimes twice on one day and her head broken 
p. two or three places.' The poor girl managed to enlist the 
sympathy of a friar, who bore a message to Elizabeth Clere: 
she 'prayeth me that I would send to you a letter of her heavi- 
ness, and pray you to be her good brother, as her trust is in 
you; and she saith, if ye may see by his evidences that his 
children and hers may inherit and she to have reasonable 
jointure, she hath heard so much of his birth and his condi- 
tions that, and ye will, she will have him whether her mother 
will or will not, notwithstanding it is told her his person is 
simple [i.e., unattractive], for she saith men shall have the 
more duty of her [respect for her] if she rule her to him as 
she ought to do'. Cousin Clere warned John Paston that his 
sister was so unhappy she might take a desperate step: 'Think, 
on this matter, for sorrow oftentime causeth women to beset 
themselves otherwise than they should do, and if she were in 
that case, I wot well ye would be sorry.' She concluded, in a 
sudden pang of fear at her daring to cross the indomitable 
Agnes, 'I pray you burn this letter, that your men nor no other 


man see it, for and my cousin your mother knew that I had 
sent you this letter, she should never love me 9 . 

Fortunately for young Elizabeth, the marriage negotiations 
with Scrope fell through, but Agnes continued to make her 
daughter miserable. 'It seemeth by my mother [-in-law's] 
language,' Margaret Paston wrote to her husband four years 
later, 'that she would never so fain to have been delivered of 
her as she will now.' 

In the spring of the following year Sir William Oldhall ap- 
peared briefly as a prospective bridegroom; a few weeks later, 
the Pastons had gone so far with William Clopton for his son 
John that an indenture was drawn up in which Elizabeth's 
dowry was set at 400 marks, she to have a jointure of lands 
worth 30 a year. John Clopton hoped that Agnes would 
provide Elizabeth with a worthy trousseau, pointing out that 
*my mistress, your mother, shall not be charged with her 
board after the day of the marriage'. He wanted to confer 
with Paston without delay, 'for the sooner, the liefer me; 
for, as to my conceit, the days be waxen wonderly long in a 
short time'. But the Cloptons are heard of no more. 

In July of 1454 Lord Grey de Ruthyn, one of the mag- 
nates of the realm, hastily informed John Paston 'that and 
your sister be not yet married, I trust to God I know where . 
she may be married to a gentleman of 300 marks of livelode 
[property], the which is a great gentleman born, and of good 
blood'. Paston replied cautiously that his sister was not yet 
insured to any man though several offers were pending, but 
before he could say more to his lordship he must know the 
gentleman's name and place of residence and other pertinent 
facts. As he had probably suspected, it turned out that the 
gentleman was a ward of Lord Grey, who cared only for the 
dowry which would go into his own pocket 

Four years later, Elizabeth was unhappily settled in the 
household of Lady Pole; but by January of 1459 she had at 
last found a husband. Her life with Robert Poynings was short 
but it must have been exciting, for he was an adventurous man 
who thrust himself into the turbulence of his age. Though 
he was Jack Cade's sword-bearer and carver, he managed to 
escape the vengeance which pursued Cade's followers 


'Many a good man's heart he hath', William Worcester de- 
clared. In February of 1461, he was killed fighting for War- 
wick the Kingmaker and the Yorkists at the second battle of 
St. Albans. The first letter that Elizabeth, married, wrote to 
her mother begins with a charming shyness: *and as for my 
master, my best beloved that ye call, and I must needs call 
him so now, for I find none other cause, and as I trust to Jhesu 
none shall, for he is full kind unto me, and is as busy as he 
can to make me sure of my jointure . . .' and from there on 
Elizabeth is entirely concerned with the finances of her 

The hunters warm to their work after the death of John 
Paston in 1466. The letters exchanged by his eldest son, Sir 
John, who loved to play the courtier in London, and the next 
son, young John, who stayed at home to protect the family 
estate, open a window on to the world of the young knights 
and squires of the time: they talk of girls and clothes and 
books, exchange ribald observations, toss in a Latin or a 
French phrase occasionally, console each other in their Sis 
and misfortunes, and give and receive news about the doings 
of the great. One of Sir John's friends thought him a non- 
pareil of matchmakers, even though he could still profit from 
Ovid's advice: 'And as to De Arte Amandi I shall send it you 
this week, for I have it not now ready; but methinketh Ovid's 
De Remedio were more meet for you, but if [unless] ye 
purposed to fall hastily in my Lady Anne P.'s lap, as white 
as whale's bone, etc. Ye be the best chooser of a gentlewoman 
that I know' for everyone but himself. 

In the early summer of 1468 he met at Calais a lady named 
Anne Haute. Not long after, they became engaged. But Sir 
John remained single, perhaps because her Woodvifle kin 
never did much for him, perhaps because he lost interest in 
Mistress Anne or could not bear to relinquish his bachelor's 
existence. He spent the last years of his life seeking an annul- 
ment of their betrothal, and died some months after he had 
finally managed to free himself. 

Within a year of his father's death, this best chooser of a 
gentlewoman was busily seeking a bride for his brother and 
on occasion tutoring him in the art of courtship. *By privy 


means' he had been sounding Lady Boleyn about one of her 
daughters, but she was showing so little enthusiasm that Sir 
John, who had his dignity to think of, 'disdained in mine own 
person to common with her therein'. In Sir John's opinion, 
the only hope was for John to speak to her himself, 'for with- 
out that, in my conceit it will not be'. He was ready with a 
fund of advice on how to approach both mother and maid: 
*Ye be personable, and peraventure, your being once in the 
sight of the maid, and a little discovering of your good will 
to her, binding her to keep it secret,' matters may go well. 
*Bear yourself as lowly to the mother as ye list [please] but 
to the maid not too lowly nor that ye be too glad to speed 
nor too sorry to fail.' Despite this knowing counsel, 'the maid' 
apparently withstood John's arts, perhaps because he had lit- 
tle land of his own and few prospects of acquiring more. 

Two and a half years later, in March of 1470, Sir John 
was still spurring on the hunt for brother John, even though 
the world had taken arms and Edward IV was about to march 
into Lincolnshire to put down a rising fomented by the King- 
maker. The Paston quarry, unfortunately, had no intention 
of immediately dwindling into a wife: 'Item as for Mistress 
Kathryn Dudley, I have many times recommended you to 
her, and she is nothing displeased with it She recketh not 
how many gentlemen love her; she is full of love. I have 
beaten the matter for you-your unknowledge [without your 
knowing it], as I told her. She answereth me that she will 
no one this two year, and I believe her; for I think she hath 
the life that she can hold her content with; I trow she will be 
a sore labouring woman this two year for need of her soul.' 
Sir John was also forced to write of another prospect: 'Mistress 
Gryseacresse is sure to St. Leger, with my Lady of Exeter, 
a foul loss.' 

For the next year and a half the Paston brothers were too 
much embroiled in the violent politics of Warwick the King- 
maker's restoration of the House of Lancaster to find tune for 
marriage hunting; but a few months after they had fought on 
the losing side at Barnet, young John was trailing a girl of 
Yorkist family, Lady Elizabeth Bourchier. After Sir John 
had an interview with the lady, he sent out feelers to discover 


the effect and reported that his brother had apparently not 
yet learned the lessons Sir John was trying to teach him: *ye 
have a little chafed it, but I cannot tell how; send me word 
whether ye be in better hope or worse.' 

Three years later young John, now about thirty, showed 
himself weary of the single state. 1 pray, get us a wife some- 
where,' he had written earlier, for mdius est nubere in 
Domino quam urere [a somewhat mangled version of St 
Paul's concession that it is better to marry than burn]*. Now 
he himself, at Norwich, was taking the lead in the marriage 
hunt and suggesting stratagems to Sir John. One of his wann- 
est prospects was the daughter of a London draper, Harry 
Eberton. 'Ere ye depart out of London, speak with Harry 
Eberton's wife and inform her that I am proffered a mar- 
riage in London which is worth 600 mark and better'; Sir 
John was then to say that his brother, 'for such fantasy as I 
have in the said Mistress Eberton' would still prefer to deal 
with the Ebertons even though Eberton would not give so 
much 'as I might have had with the other 9 . Sir John was to 
hint that his brother might even better his last offer and that 
if the mother was witling, John would come posting up to 
London, within a fortnight 'for that cause only'. The 600 
mark marriage sounds like a conventional move in the bar- 
gaining, but young John did have two other lines out: 'also, 
sir, I pray you that ye will common with John Lee or his wife, 
or both, to understand how the matter at the Blackfriars doth, 
and that ye will see and speak with the thing yourself and with 
her father and mother, ere ye depart.* John likewise had 
his eye upon a widow in the same quarter. 'Also, that it like 
you to speak with your apothecary, which was sometime 
the Earl of Warwick's apothecary, and to weet of him what 
the widow of the Blackfriars is worth and what her hus- 
band's name was. He can tell all, for he is executor to the 
widow's husband.' 

By the time summer weather had yielded to the grey skies 
of November, Elizabeth Eberton and the Blackfriars widow 
had gone the way of all the former prospects. The thing* at 
Blackfriars was about to 'be wedded in haste* to one Skeeme 
'as she told herself to my silkmaid [dressmaker], which 


maketh part of such as she shall wear, to whom she broke 
her heart [revealed her inmost feelings] and told her that she 
should have had Master Paston; and my maid weened it had 
been I that she spoke of; and with more, that the same Mas- 
ter Paston came where she was with twenty men and would 
have taken her away.' This romantic flight of fancy had not 
appealed to Sir John: "I told my maid that she lied of me, 
and that I never speak with her in my life, nor that I would 
not wed her to have with her 3,000 marks. 9 

But fresh game was afoot. Young John had a friend named 
Dawnson and the two men were hunting hard for each other. 
Dawnson, up in London, had been in touch with Lady Wai- 
grave, the widow of a knight. Sir John, with rather patronizing 
amusement, was seconding Dawnson's efforts: 'I have com- 
moned with your friend Dawnson and have received your 
ring of him! and he hath by mine advice spoken with her 
[Lady Walgrave] two times: he telleth me of her dealing and 
answers, which if they were according to his saying, a fainter 
lover than ye would and well ought to take therein great com- 
fort, so that he might haply sleep the worse three nights after. 
. . . Within three days, I hope to set you in certainty how 
that ye shall find her forever hereafter. It is so, as I understand, 
that ye be as busy on your side for your friend Dawnson; I 
pray God send you good speed in these works; yet were it pity 
that such crafty wooers as ye be both should speed well, but 
if ye love truly.* 

Three weeks later (December 11, 1474) Sir John sent word 
to his brother that he had given "himself without stint to the 
pursuit and 'done my devour to know my Lady Walgrave's 
stomach', but he had little comfort to offer. She had refused to 
keep John's ring even though Sir John in a burst of eloquence 
that he could not forbear repeating told her 'that she should 
not be anything bound thereby but that I knew well ye would 
be glad to forbear the lievest [dearest] thing that ye had in 
the world, which might be daily in her presence [and] that 
should cause her once a day to remember you but it would 
not be'. 

Worse still, Sir John learned the next morning from his go- 
betweenan indispensable agent in the marriage hunt that 


Lady Walgrave wanted back her musk-ball, which he had 
taken in a playful moment, protesting that he must send it to 
his brother. Sir John called again upon the lady and redoubled 
his blandishments. He had not dispatched his brother the 
musk-ball, he told her, 'because I wist well ye should have 
slept the worse; but now, as God help me, I would send it 
you and give you my advise not to hope overmuch on her 
which is an overhard-hearted lady for a young man to trust 
unto' though he assured Lady Walgrave tihat brother John 
was in fact incapable of not trusting her. At these words she 
ceased to demand the return of the musk-ball; *wherefore do 
ye with it as ye like. I would it had done well; by God, I 
spake for you so, that in faith I trow I could not say so well 
again. I send you herewith your ring and the unhappy musk- 
ball'. The effort had exhausted Sir John: 'make ye matter of 
it hereafter as ye can; I am not happy to woo neither for my- 
self nor none other.' 

Two years passed and young John, in May of 1476, was 
still alerting his brother to the chase: 1 understand that Mis- 
tress Fitzwalter hath a sister, a maid, to marry. I trow . . . she 
might come into Christian men's hands.* But the marriage 
hunt was almost over for John Paston: he was about to find 
not only a bride but something he had apparently never bar- 
gained for, love. The girl was Margery Brews, daughter of 
Sir Thomas Brews, 2 a well-known figure in Norfolk with 
whom John Paston must have been acquainted all his life. But 
somehow Sir Thomas's eldest daughter had grown to woman- 
hood without his being aware. John's friend Richard Stratton 
had first spoken of her, and spoken so enthusiastically that 
John, some time in the latter part of 1476, plumed up his 
courage and his pen and wrote her a letter that Richard en- 
gaged to deliver: 

*Mistress, though so be that I, unacquainted with you as 
yet, take upon me to be thus bold to write unto you without 
your knowledge and leave, yet, mistress ... I beseech you 
to pardon my boldness, and not to disdain, but to accept 
this simple bill to recommend me to you, ... I have heard 

a On one occasion he was elected to Parliament along with Sir John 
Howard; see Chapter 6 for an account of their campaign tactics. 


oft times Richard Stratton say that ye can and will take every- 
thing well that is well meant. . . . Mistress, I beseech you to 
tfrinlc none otherwise in me ... but that I am and will be 
yours and at your commandment in every wise during my 
life. Here I send you this bill written with my lewd [ignorant] 
hand and sealed with my signet to remain with you for a 
witness against me and to my shame and dishonour if I con- 
trary it . . .' 

John and Margery met and spoke and fell hi love. Sir 
Thomas Brews looked askance at John Paston's meagre por- 
tion; but delays and bargaining added romantic poignancy to 
the courtship instead of dominating it. The Brews were much 
more openly affectionate with their children than the Fastens, 
and Margery was her father's and mother's favourite. Though 
Sir Thomas meant to see that his daughter received her due 
in worldly state, he treated young John very kindly and clearly 
approved of him as a son-in-law. 

Dame Elizabeth Brews was love's advocate itself. Early in 
the courtship she wrote secretly to John to report the disposi- 
tion of her husband, to suggest what help John might ask of 
his mother, and to encourage his ardour. 'And, cousin, that 
day that she [Margery] is married, my father will give her 
50 mark. But and we accord, I shall give you a greater treas- 
ure, that is, a witty gentlewoman, and if I say it, both good 
and virtuous; for if I should take money for her, I would not 
give her for 1,000; but, cousin, I trust you so much that I 
should think her well beset on you and ye were worth much 
more. 5 Early in February of 1477, Dame Elizabeth, mind- 
ful of the season, invited John to pass a weekend at the 
Brews country seat at Topcroft. She made no attempt to con- 
ceal Margery's feelings: 'Ye have made her such advocate for 
you, that I may never have rest night nor day, for calling and 
crying upon to bring the said matter to effect, etc. And, 
cousin, upon Friday is St. Valentine's Day, and every bird 
chooseth him a mate; and if it like you to come on Thursday 
at night and abide till Monday, I trust to God that ye shall 
so speak to my husband that we shall bring the matter to a 
conclusion; for, cousin, 


It is but a simple oak 

That is cut down at the first stroke.' 

Soon a letter arrived from Margery herself, and once we 
hear her voice, we understand why John fell in love with her. 
She felt too deeply and she was too honest to make use of 
even a shred of feminine wiles: 'Right reverend and wor- 
shipful and my right wellbeloved Valentine ... if it please 
you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body, 
nor of heart, nor shall be till I hear from you: 

For there wots no creature what pain that I endure 
And for to be dead I dare it not 'dyscure' [discover]. 

And my lady my mother hath laboured the matter to my 
father full diligently, but she can no more get than ye know 
of, for the which God knoweth I am full sorry. But if that 
ye love me, as I trust verily that ye do, ye will not leave me 
therefore; for if that ye had not half the livelode that ye have, 
for to do [though I might have to do] the greatest labour 
that any woman alive might, I would not forsake you.* 

Though John had promised Dame Elizabeth not to add fuel 
to the fire by writing to Margery until a financial settlement 
was agreed upon, this letter elicited from him an enthusiastic 
acceptance of the Valentine invitation, to which Margery re- 
plied at once to express her joy *that ye be purposed to come 
to Topcroft in short time, without any errand or matter but 
only to have a conclusion betwixt my father and you. And as 
for myself, I have done in the matter that I can or may, as 
God knoweth; and I let you plainly understand that my fa- 
ther will no more money part withal on that behalf [Le., for 
the dowry] but <100 and 50 marks, which is rigfrt far from 
the accomplishment of your desire. 

'Wherefore, if that ye could be content with that good, and 
my poor person, I would be the merriest maiden on ground; 
and if ye think not yourself so satisfied, or that ye might have 
much more good, as I understand by you afore; good, true, 
and loving valentine, take no such labour upon you as to 
come more for that matter but let it pass and never more to 
be spoken of, as I may be your true lover and bedewoman 
during my life.' 


Perhaps at Dame Elizabeth's or Margery's urging, a friend 
of the Brews' family, one Thomas Kela, now took a hand by 
writing an encouraging letter to young John Paston: 'Right 
worshipful sir, I recommend me unto you, letting you know, 
as for the young gentlewoman she oweth you her good heart 
and love, as I know by the communication that I have had 
with her for the same. 

'And, sir, ye know what my master and my lady hath 
proffered with her, 200 marks. And I daresay that her cham- 
ber and raiment [trousseau] shall be worth 100 marks. And I 
heard my lady say, that, and the case required, both ye and 
she should have your board with my lady three years after. 
And I heard my lady say, 

That it was a feeble oak 

That was cut down at the first stroke.' 

Apparently the Valentine's weekend was a happy one, ex- 
cept for concluding the marriage settlement. In early March, 
John was back at Topcroft, writing excitedly to arrange a 
meeting between Margaret Paston and Dame Elizabeth at 
Norwich, 'Mother, the matter is in a reasonable good way 
. . . for I trow there is not a kinder woman living than I shall 
have to my mother-in-law, if the matter take, nor yet a kinder 
father-in-law than I shall have, though he be hard to me as 
yet.' John was having the Paston place in Norwich stocked 
with ale and bread for her arrival on the Wednesday; he 
wanted Dame Elizabeth to be invited to 'dine in your house 
on Thursday, for there should ye have most secret talking 5 . 
He experienced an unusual flurry of anxiety about his 
mother's health: *Beware that ye take no cold by the way to- 
wards Norwich, for it is the most perilous March that ever 
was seen by any that now liveth.' The next day John sent 
word to his brother Sir John at Calais that touching myself 
and mistress Margery Brews, I am yet at no certainty, her 
father is so hard; but I trow I have the good will of my lady 
her mother and her. . . .' He rapidly touched on a number of 
other matters, concluding, 1 pray you pardon me of my 
writing, howsoever it be, for carpenters of my craft that I 
use now, have not their wits their own'. 


Shortly thereafter love's heaven clouded over. Sir Thomas 
was willing to offer 300 marks of dowry and board the couple 
for three years if necessary, provided that John could secure 
from his family the manor of Swainsthorpe; and he was even 
willing to use the dowry money he had saved for his other 
daughters to lend John the ,120 that would purchase the 
manor. But he insisted that he must be repaid by John's 
family or friends and not by John himself out of his own 
goods or the marriage portion. 

Margaret Paston was willing to squeeze some money from 
her manors. Sir John had responded to first news of the court- 
ship with blithe approval: 'Bykerton telleth me that she loveth 
you well. If I died, I had rather ye had her than the Lady 
Walgrave; nevertheless she singeth well with an harp.' But 
after his mother had asked him to help the lovers and young 
John had twice applied to him and he had heard from other 
sources that he was rumoured to be playing the niggard to 
his brother, Sir John replied angrily to the man who had 
risked his life to hold Caister Castle for him, "You need not 
to pray me oftener than once to do what might be to your 
profit and worship'. Item by item he demolished the notion 
that he had resources available to help satisfy Sir Thomas 
Brews' demands. He added, in a burst of irritation, 'I need 
not to make this excuse to you, but that your mind is troubled*, 
and proceeded to work himself into a state of poorly con- 
cealed self-justification mingled with reproaches masquerad- 
ing as a high moral attitude: 'I pray you rejoice not yourself 
too much in hope to obtain thing that all your friends may 
not ease you of; for if my mother were disposed to give me 
and any woman in England the best manor that she hath . . . 
I would not take it of her, by God. 

'Stablish yourself upon a good ground and grace shall fol- 
low. Your matter is far spoken of and blown wide, and if it 
prove no better, I would that it had never been spoken of. 
Also that matter noiseth me [the affair has generated gossip] 
that I am so unkind that I let all together [I alone am pre- 
venting the match], I think not a matter happy, nor well han- 
dled, nor politickly dealt with, when it can never be finished 
without an inconvenience. ... If I were at the beginning 


of such a matter, I would have hoped to have made a better 
conclusion, if they mock you not. This matter is driven thus 
far forth without my counsel, I pray you make an end with- 
out my counsel. If it be well, I would be glad; if it be other- 
wise, it is a pity. I pray you trouble me no more in this mat- 
ter. . . .' 3 

It was hard. Sir John was getting on for forty; he suffered 
bouts of illness and was always harried by debt; and now 
young John, his pupil in the marriage hunt, had ungratefully 
managed to find for himself the very mate, as everybody kept 
dinning into Sir John's ears. Besides, the elder brother prob- 
ably realized that he would never marry and could not sup- 
press a jealous pang that John and Margery were destined in 
the end to possess his all. He soon began to come round, how- 
ever, and wrote to his mother that he had no objections to 
John's being given the manor of Swainsthorpe, though he 
refused to obligate himself to Sir Thomas. Feeling that he 
had put himself in an ungracious light, he promised John, 
*I shall be to Sir Thomas Brews and my lady his wife a very 
son-in-law for your sake and take them as ye do, and do for 
them as if I were in case like with them as ye be'. 

But spring wore away and the marriage was no nearer. Sir 
Thomas was apparently not yet satisfied by the attitude of 
Sir John, head of the Paston family. Then in June the two 
mothers came together again at Norwich. When Margery's 
father still proved obdurate, John in a fever of stratagems 
dictated a long letter for his mother to send to Dame Eliza- 
beth and a second letter for her to send to himself which he 
might show to the Brews. In early August, Sir John had so 
softened that he was offering to be of some help; though he 
was still making clear that if his practised hand had manipu- 
lated the negotiations, difficulties would have melted away. 

TTie rhetoric of this passage indicates that a scholarly reputation 
remains to be made in showing that Shakespeare had access to the 
Paston letters or, more probably, that the plays were written about one 
hundred years earlier than is generally supposed, perhaps by a secre- 
tary in Sir John Paston's employ. The latter thesis is all but proved by 
the fact that an Alicia Langham of Snaylwell, Suffolk tfzs Pastons 
owned a manor of Snaylwell (maladroitly located in Cambridgeshire) 
--left 12d in her will, dated 1451, to the pauper of Snaylwell, one Wil- 
liam Shakespeare. 


By that time, however, love had somehow conquered; John 
was conspiratorially scribbling memoranda to himself like 'to 
keep secret from my mother that the bargain is full con- 
cluded'; and before autumn was very far advanced, he had 
won and wedded his Margery hi a ceremony which passed 
unnoticed in the Paston letters. 

Margery, married, loses not a jot of her charm. Her first 
surviving letter to her husband, of December 18, 1477, be- 
gins with the accustomed formality of the age, 'Right reverend 
and worshipful husband, I recommend me to you, desiring 
heartily to hear of your welfare'; then goes on to detail the 
gowns and the girdles that she needs for the winter. But she 
soon works into her own vein: she needs a girdle badly, for 
I am waxed so fetis [fashionable] that I may not be gut in 
no girdle that I have but one. . . . John of Damme was 
here, and my mother discovered me to him, and he said, by 
his troth that he was not gladder of no thing that he heard this 
twelvemonth than he was thereof. 

'I may no longer live by my craft, I am discovered of all 
men that see me. 

'I pray you that ye will wear the ring with the image of St 
Margaret that I sent you for a remembrance, till ye come 
home; ye have left me such a remembrance, that maketh me 
to tTimk upon you both day and night when I would sleep.' 
All men who read the Paston letters must fall a little hi love 
with Margery, gay and witty and loving. So she continued to 
the end she died in 1495 as irresistible as when she enter- 
tained John Paston for a Valentine's weekend. Her few re- 
maining letters are called forth by John's sojourns in Lon- 
don, to which she never became reconciled. 

In November of 1482 she wrote him a budget of news 
headed by the usual formal salutation, but towards the close 
she could not keep back her feeling: *I marvel I hear no word 
from you, which grieveth me full evilly,* and she added a post- 
script, 'Sir, I pray you, if ye tarry long at London, that it 
will please you to send for me, for I think long since I lay in 
your arms.' John's family was growing; Margery reports the 
good health of 'all your babies 5 . Two days after, she was 
writing to him again, and this time formal salutation col- 


lapsed into 'Mine own sweetheart, in my most humble wise' 
etc. John was again in London two years later and Margery 
sent him on Christmas Eve her last surviving letter: 'I am 
sorry that ye shall not at home be for Christmas. I pray you 
that ye will come as soon as ye may. I shall think myself 
half a widow because ye shall not be at home.' 

Meantime, the marriage hunt swept on. Less than six 
months after he was married, John was doing for his brother 
Edmund what Sir John had once done for him: 'I heard while 
I was hi London,' he wrote to his mother, *where was a goodly 
young woman to marry. . . .' Three years later, Edmund, 
who had married the widow of William Clippesby in the 
meanwhile, had begun to hunt for his younger brother Wil- 
liam: 'Here is lately fallen a widow in Worsted,' he wrote 
hastily to William, *which was wife to one Bolt, a Worsted 
merchant and worth 1,000. ... I will for your sake see her* 
etc. etc. Our view of the marriage hunt is cut off in the early 
1490's with Edmund Paston prospecting for John's eldest son. 
'Merchants or new gentlemen I deem will proffer large,' wrote 
the great-grandson of Clement Paston, yeoman. 

The Paston letters record a more turbulent love match than 
that of Margery and John, one that is almost the stuff of bal- 
lads. In the troubled spring of 1450, Thomas Denyes, a law- 
yer in the Earl of Oxford's household, fell headlong in love 
with a Norfolk widow named Agnes. She was worth better 
than 500 marks, but there seems no question that Thomas 
Denyes was moved by passion rather than calculation. From 
then on he was little use to the Earl of Oxford, whose seat at 
Wivenhoe, Essex, was much too far away from Norwich. The 
Earl proved sympathetic and wrote to John Paston requesting 
him to 'move' the gentlewoman in Denyes' behalf, for she 
had apparently not given Thomas much encouragement. Ox- 
ford promised to 'show our bounty to them both if it please 
her that this matter take effect', and he offered graciously to 
visit Agnes himself if it would forward Denyes's suit. The 
lady might have looked higher, but Oxford's 'good lordship*, 
John Paston's labours, and Denyes's impassioned siege of her 
heart won the day. 

A few years later a man named Ingham and his son Walter 


laid claim to some of Agnes' property. The mercurial 
Denyes plotted a revenge which even by the standards of that 
time was foolhardy in the extreme. He forged a letter from 
the Earl of Oxford to Walter Ingham, requesting Ingham to 
come to Wivenhoe. Then Denyes hired ruffians and set an 
ambush on the road which he knew Ingham would travel. 
The unfortunate man was set upon, beaten so viciously that 
he was apparently left for dead, and for the rest of his days 
went on crutches. 

The Earl of Oxford was furiously angry at being so com- 
promised and saw to it that the law moved promptly. Denyes 
was clapped into Fleet Prison, his servants and friends were 
harried, and his wife, who was with child, was thrown into 
Newgate. From the Fleet, Denyes wrote frantic letters to 
John Paston begging for help. To his credit, his anguish was 
all for the suffering of his Agnes: 'In augmenting of my sor- 
row I weened my wife should have died, for after she was 
arrested she laboured of her child, waiting either to die or 
be delivered, and she hath not gone eight weeks quick.' For- 
tunately, the warden of Fleet Prison managed to get the poor 
woman temporarily admitted to bail. John Paston had no 
sympathy with Denyes but he was moved by the wife's pligfrt 
and risked writing to the incensed Earl to remind him that 
after all the match had been made by his good offices and 
that therefore he and Paston himself owed the lady their aid: 
'If she be destroyed by this marriage, my conscience thinketh 
I am bound to recompense her after my poor and simple 
power. . . . For God's love, my Lord, remember how the 
gentlewoman is encumbered only for your sake and help her.* 
John Paston must have been of some assistance, for Woeful 
Denyes', as he signed himself, wrote an incoherent letter of 
mingled thanks and appeals: 'Ever I beseech your master- 
ship . . . that ye like to do my wife help and comfort in her 
disease [trouble]; for if she were not, God knoweth I should 
soon shift [die]. And truly I have no thought nor sorrow but 
for her. I pray you, succour my wife, for she is widow yet for 
me and shall be till more is done. . . .* 

Somehow Thomas Denyes managed to wriggle out of his 
difficulties. By 1461 he had become a good Yorkist; he ap- 


parently fought for Edward IV at Towton, for he was at York 
immediately after with the Yorkist army. He made complaints 
to King Edward about a Norfolk man named Twyer. Twyer 
was sufficiently powerful that he did not have to depend upon 
the law, like Walter Ingham. When Denyes returned to Nor- 
folk, a band of armed men, led by the sinister Parson of 
Snoring, dragged him from his house, carried him off to a 
place near Walsingham, and murdered him. The Parson of 
Snoring and four of his accomplices were set in the stocks, 
but Denyes* murderers apparently never stood trial. 

The most poignant love match recorded in this age blos- 
somed secretly in the very bosom of the Paston family. A few 
years after the Pastons had finally married the unhappy Eliza- 
beth to Robert Poynings they began to look for a husband 
for Margery, the eldest daughter of John and Margaret. In 
September of 1465 John Paston the younger asked his mother, 
then in London, to visit the Rood of the North door of St 
Paul's and the Abbey of St. Saviour, Bermondsey, 'and let my 
sister Margery go with you to pray to them that she may have 
a good husband ere she come home again. . . .* 

About the year 1467 J. Strange of Norwich began negoti- 
ating for Margery's hand for his nephew John who could offer 
her a 40 jointure and an inheritance of 200 marks. But by 
this time Margery, unbeknownst to her parents, had fallen in 
love; and she had looked no farther than her father's house- 
hold. She had been secretly wooed and won by Richard Calle, 
the able young bailiff of the family lands. Well educated, he 
owned an establishment of some sort at Framlingham, the 
principal seat of the Duke of Norfolk, whose father had origi- 
nally recommended him to John Paston, and if the Pastons did 
not look upon him as gentry, he probably considered himself 
a gentleman-an ambiguity of rank typical of the fifteenth 
century. When Richard was away tending to the Pastons' com- 
plex affairs, he wrote letters to Margery to keep his love warm. 
Finally, when the two of them managed to steal a moment 
alone, the girl pledged her troth to hin^ an irrevocable step. 

Honourably Richard informed Margaret Paston of his love 
for her daughter. She indignantly refused to listen to him. 
Margery was whisked out of his sight and so bullied by the 


family that she showed them some of Calle's letters. Richard 
Calle then informed the Fastens that he and Margery had 
plighted troth and that nothing could stand in the way of their 
marriage. Margaret Paston, already harried by a larger crisis 
in her affairs, badgered her daughter to declare that she had 
given no such engagement, and for a time the frightened girl 
could not bring herself to confirm her lover's word. 

The revelation of the troth-plight could not have come at a 
worse time. During this spring of 1469 the Duke of Norfolk 
was openly preparing to lay siege to Caister, young John 
Paston was holding the castle with a handful of men, and in 
London Sir John anxiously sought to win the support of in- 
fluential lords. In this taut moment of edgy nerves, Richard 
Calle persuaded a friend of his to sound young John Paston 
indirectly on the subject of his claim to Margery's hand; and 
the friend, it appears, misled Calle by a false optimism so that 
he ventured to write to Sir John, indicating that young John 
had given his approval to the match. 

Sir John exploded in a letter to his brother; young John 
forcefully denied that Calle had had any comfort of him: 'I 
conceive . . . that ye have heard of R.C.'s labour which he 
maketh by our ungracious sister's assent; but whereas they 
write that they have my goodwill therein, saving your rever- 
ence, they falsely lie of it.' Young John had told Calle's friend 
that though 'my father, whom God assoil, were alive and had 
consented thereto, and my mother, and ye both, he should 
never have my good will for to make my sister to sell candle 
and mustard in Framlingham. . . .* 

What must have especially exasperated the family was that 
Richard Calle was never more indispensable than at this mo- 
ment. He was, in fact, making his headquarters at Caister with 
young John. Not long after the latter had penned his indignant 
letter to his brother, Calle also wrote to Sir John. He made 
no further mention of himself and Margery but he quietly 
underlined his service to the family by itemizing all that he 
was doing to gather money and keep the wheels of the house- 
hold turning; and he did not scruple to add, *and of all this 
twelvemonth I have not had one penny for my wages*. The 
situation had become intolerable for Richard. Only Margery 


could loose herself and Him from the toils of frustration in 
which they writhed. Somehow he managed to smuggle a letter 
to her. 

'Mine own lady and mistress, and before God very true 
wife, I with heart full sorrowful recommend me unto you, as 
he that cannot be merry, nor nought shall be till it be other- 
wise with us than it is yet, for this life that we lead now is 
neither pleasure to God nor to the world, considering the 
great bond of matrimony that is made betwixt us, and also 
the great love that hath been and as I trust yet is betwixt us, 
and as on my part never greater; wherefore I beseech almighty 
God comfort us as soon as it pleaseth him, for we that ought 
of very right to be most together are most asunder; me seem- 
eth it is a thousand years ago since that I spake with you. I 
had liever than all the goods in the world I might be with you. 
Alas, alas! good lady, full little remember they what they do 
that keep us asunder; four times in the year are they accursed 
that let matrimony; it causeth many men to deem in them 
they have large conscience [i.e., easy morality] in other mat- 
ters as well as herein. . . . 

1 understand, Lady, ye have had as much sorrow for me 
as any gentlewoman hath hi the world; would God all that 
sorrow that ye have had had rested upon me, so that ye had 
been discharged of it, for i-wis [truly], Lady, it is to me a 
death to hear that ye be treated otherwise than ye ought to be. 
This is a painful life that we lead. I cannot live thus without 
it be a great displeasure to God. . . . 

T had sent you a letter by my lad, and he told me he might 
not speak with you, there was made so great await [watch] 
upon him and upon you both. [Then] John Threscher came 
to him in your name and said that ye sent him to my lad for a 
letter or a token which I should have sent you [i.e., via the 
boy], but he trusted him [Threscher] not; he would not de- 
liver him none. After that he [Threscher] brought him a ring, 
saying that ye sent it him, commanding him that he should 
deliver the letter or token to him [Threscher], which I con- 
ceive since by my lad it was not by your sending, it was by 
my mistress's and Sir James [Gloys's scheming], 

'Alas, what mean they? I suppose they deem we be not 


insured together [betrothed], and if they so do I marvel, for 
then they are not well advised, remembering the plainness 
that I broke to my mistress at the beginning, and I suppose 
[by you broken also, if] ye did as ye ought to do of very right; 
and if ye have done the contrary, as I have been informed ye 
have done, ye did neither conscientiously nor to the pleasure 
of God, without ye did it for fear, and for the time [i.e., under 
pressure of circumstances] to please such as were at that time 
about you; and if ye so did it for this service it was a reason- 
able cause, considering the great and importable calling upon 
[harrying] that ye had, and many an untrue tale was made 
to you of me, which God knows I was never guilty of. ... 

'I suppose, and ye tell them sadly [earnestly] the truth, they 
would not damn their souls for us. Though I tell them the 
truth, they will not believe me as well as they will do you; and 
therefore, good lady, at the reverence of God be plain to them 
and tell the truth, and if they will in no wise agree thereto, 
betwixt God, the Devil, and them be it, and that peril that we 
should be in, I beseech God it may lie upon them and not 
upon us. . . .' 

Richard strove to hearten Margery by reminding her that 
whatever the Fastens did, 'this matter is in such case as it can- 
not be remedied', and with simple dignity he asserted that, 
considering what he deserved of the family, 'there should be 
no obstacle against if. If Sir John and his brother were so 
much concerned about status, let them look to their own mar- 
riages, for 'the worshipful that is in them is not in your mar- 

Margery now plucked up her courage and announced 
plainly that she was betrothed to Richard Calle. The moment 
her lover found out that she had proved true, he complained 
to the Bishop of Norwich that whom God had joined together 
the Pastons were trying to keep apart. The Bishop, a friend 
of the family, sympathized with their point of view and ig- 
nored the appeal; but Richard Calle and Richard's friends 
gave him no peace. Reluctantly he sent word that Margery 
should be brought before him. Her mother enlisted the aid 
of the fearsome Agnes to delay matters until the girl was brow- 
beaten into submission. Nobody knew better than Margaret 


Paston that in the eyes of the Church troth-plighting was as 
binding as matrimony itself. Ironically enough, only a few 
months before, when she heard that Sir John had engaged 
himself to Mistress Anne Haute, she had written to him that 
toward 'God ye are as greatly bound to her as [if] ye were 
married, and therefore I charge you upon my blessing that 
ye be as true to her as [if] she were married unto you in all 

August was now reaching its end. Richard and Margery's 
little drama of true love was being played against the back- 
ground of a realm shaken by alarums of war. Warwick the 
Kingmaker had defeated the King's friends in battle and taken 
the King captive. The land quaked with rumours and uprisings. 
And now the young Duke of Norfolk, calling up his tenants 
and followers by the hundreds and sending for guns from 
Yarmouth, at last laid siege to Caister Castle. 

At this critical moment in the Paston affairs, the Bishop of 
Norwich finally insisted that Margery be brought before him 
for examination. In vain did Margaret and Agnes seek to post- 
pone matters until all of John Paston's executors could be 
called together 'for they had the rule of her as well'; and Sir 
John Paston, desperately seeking help for Caister, could only 
write darkly to Margaret that he would divorce the lovers by 
one means or the other. When the ladies called upon the 
Bishop, 'he said plainly that he had been required so often for 
to examine her that he might not now nor would no longer 
delay it, and charged me, on pain of cursing, that she should 
not be deferred but that she should appear before him the next 
day'. The angry mother answered flatly that she *would neither 
bring her nor send her; and then he said that he would send 
for her himself, and charged that she should be at her liberty 
to come when he sent for her'. The Bishop made it clear, 
Margaret explained to Sir John, that he too was shocked by 
Margery's conduct and hoped that she would deny the en- 
gagement, 'for he woost well that her demeaning had sticked 
sore at our hearts'. 

Next day Margery was brought to the Episcopal Palace. 
Calle had been summoned also, but the two were not permitted 
to see each other. The Bishop felt no compunction about put- 


ting pressure on the girl to deny her vow; before he judged 
by the canons of the Church he permitted himself to speak in 
the language of the world. He 'said to her right plainly and 
put her in remembrance how she was born, what kin and 
friends that she had, and should have more if she were ruled 
and guided after them; and what rebuke and shame and loss 
it should be to her if she were not guided by them'. He ended 
by telling her that she ran the awful risk of being outcast from 
her family, friends, and position. Then he asked her to tell him 
precisely the words that she and Richard Calle had used to 
each other. 

Margery had taken her life in her hands now and did not 
falter. After she repeated the oath she and Richard had sworn, 
she boldly added that 'if those words made it not sure', she 
would say whatever had to be said to make it sure 'ere she 
went thence, for she said she thought in her conscience she 
was bound, whatsoever the words were'. Margaret confessed 
to Sir John that 'these lewd words grieveth me and her 
grandma [Agnes] as much as all remnant'. The Bishop did 
not like it either; he told Margery, and so did his chancellor, 
'that there was neither I nor no friend of her would receive 
her'. But Margery was not to be shaken. 'Then Calle was 
examined apart by himself to see if 'her words and his ac- 
corded, and the time, and where it should have been done'. 
The stories agreed. The words were binding. The Bishop did 
what little he could for the family: despite Calle's protests he 
declared that, hi case other impediments might be found, he 
would postpone giving final judgement until after Michaelmas 
(September 29). 

The moment the hearing was over, a messenger hastened 
to bring the news to Margaret Paston, waiting at Agnes' place 
in Norwich. 'When I heard say what her demeaning was, I 
charged my servants that she should not be received in my 
house. I had given her warning, she might have been aware 
therefore, if she had been gracious.' In her bitterness Margaret 
Paston went so far as to send to some of her friends in Nor- 
wich asking them not to receive the girl if she applied to them. 
When Margery was escorted to the Paston door, Sir James 
Gloys gave himself the pleasure of turning her away. The 


Bishop of Norwich then placed her at the home of Roger Best 
until his decision should be announced. Margaret Paston was 
sorry 'that they are encumbered with her 9 but she took a sav- 
age satisfaction in the fact that such upright people would 
not treat Margery leniently. 'I pray you', she ended her mourn- 
ful recital to Sir John, that ye take it not pensively, for I wot 
well it goeth right near your heart, and so doth it to mine and | 
to other; but remember you, and so do I, that we have lost of 
her but a brethele [a worthless one]. . . .' Even if 'he [Calle] 
were dead at this hour, she should never be at mine heart as 
she was'. 

Though the Duke of Norfolk grudgingly took the Pastons 
under his protection after he had won Caister, the family and 
their friends and tenants were menaced daily by Norfolk's 
'gallants'. Richard Calle, however, remained loyal. He refused 
to gather any more money from the Paston lands unless he 
was specifically requested to do so; he made known that he 
stood ready to deliver all the account books and leases and 
other important estate papers in his possession; but he sent 
word to Margaret Paston, she reported to Sir John, that 'he 
will not take no new master till ye refuse his service*. The 
Bishop pronounced his judgement that Margery and Richard 
were indissolubly engaged. Richard then retired with the girl 
to Blackborough nunnery, near Lynn, until the banns had 
been pronounced and they could be married. 

The Pastons realized that they could not do without Richard 
Calle's services. From London, Sir John even wrote home 
mildly that he wished the marriage of Richard and Margery 
to be delayed until the Christmas season. Margery's name 
never again appears in the Paston correspondence, and Sir 
John and young John finally broke with their bailiff; but for 
many long years Richard Calle continued to be of service to 
Margaret Paston. Upon her death in 1484, she bequeathed 
20 to the eldest of the three sons of 'Margery my daughter*. 
His name was John. 

11. WIVES 

WHAT the Victorians and subsequent generations have called 
home life existed in the fifteenth century only among the hum- 
bler classes. The young couple whose destinies had been linked 
by parental arrangement settled down to create not a home 
but a household. The attitudes of the age did not encourage 
privacy, intimacy, or demonstrations of affection; households 
were frequently on the move or scattered; and the business of 
living, among the merchants and gentry, often required hus- 
bands and wives to be apart. 

The King and his lords moved from manor to manor, as 
they had for centuries, to keep watch upon their lands and to 
consume the produce thereof; it was easier to bring the house- 
hold to the estate than to transport the yield of the estate to 
the household; besides, at periodic intervals sewage had to be 
removed from the cellar pits which lay below the 'garderobes' 
and castles 'sweetened' before they could be again comfortably 
lived in. 

On a smaller scale, the upper classes in town and country 
emulated the nobles. Families like the Celys shuttled back and 
forth between their manors and then* London dwellings and 
offices. The Stonors and the Plumptons and the Fastens shifted 
households from estate to estate, paused in a nearby town to 
spend a season, came up to London for shopping and legal 
business. Sir John Howard owned places in Colchester, Har- 
wich, and the capital; the Pastons possessed two dwellings in 
Norwich and property in London. In the last years of his life 
John Paston appears to have spent more time on the banks of 
the Thames than at home in the country. When powerful men 


were trying to tear pieces from the Paston holdings, a Paston 
son held down one manor, John's wife Margaret maintained 
possession of another, while John himself fought the legal bat- 
tle in London. 

When Sir William Stonor was looking after his sheep in 
Oxfordshire or riding into the West Country to survey his prop- 
erty there, his wife Elizabeth spent weeks at a time in London 
keeping an eye on his business interests. She had London in 
her blood, for she was the daughter of an alderman, grand- 
daughter of a famous mayor and chronicler, William Gregory, 
widow of a wealthy mercer, and sister-in-law of Sir William 
Stocker, knighted by Edward IV for the part he played in the 
defence of London in the spring of 1471. Elizabeth had prob- 
ably brought about the partnership between the Stonors and 
Thomas Betson, Merchant of the Staple, which Sir William 
found very profitable. Enjoying her new role of landed lady, 
she proudly described to her husband how she had waited 
upon the King's sister Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, when 
the Duchess called upon her 'lady mother' (Cicely of York), 
and she maintained a 'menie of boys* and indulged in other 
extravagances for which Thomas Betson gently chided her; 
but she seems to have been most herself when she sojourned 
in the city to further the operations of the partnership. Com- 
ing from the manor of Stonor, she was sometimes met at 
Windsor by Thomas; they had a merry journey to London so 
Betson reported to her husband and Sir William sent up veni- 
son and boar to grace their table. 

Husbands and wives, or either of them when the other was 
absent, 'broke up household 5 on occasion and became 'so- 
journants'. Sometimes they *went to board' in London or a 
provincial town; sometimes they found quarters in an abbey; 
sometimes they took up residence in the manor house of a 
friend or kinsman or anyone who would have them. John 
Paston's brother William wrote to his nephew Sir John, in 
April of 1467, that Margaret Paston and a friend, James Ar- 
blaster, and 1 have appointed that we shall keep no house- 
hold this term [in London], but go to board; wherefore we 
advise you to purvey for us a lodging near about my Lord 

WIVES 377 

Chancellor 1 that be honest, for Arblaster will none other. 
Item, as for you ... get your chamber assigned within my 
Lord's place, and get chamber alone if ye may, that Arblaster 
and I may have a bed therein if it fortune us to be late with 
you there 5 . 

While King Edward invaded France in the summer of 1475, 
his mother Cicely, Duchess of York, settled with all her housed 
hold at the Abbey of St. Bennet, Holme, Norfolk, and an- 
nounced that she would remain till the King 'came from be- 
yond the sea, and longer if she liked the air there'. Barons and 
their wives did not think it beneath their dignity to 'go to 
board', and it was not unusual even for wealthy gentry like 
the Stonors to take such boarders. On one occasion, though, 
Jane Stonor wrote hastily to her husband that Lord Morley 
desired to lodge with them but she did not want him, declaring 
that she would rather 'break up household than take sojourn- 
ants, for servants be not so diligent as they were wont to be*. 

Fifteenth-century families, it seems, were restless and liked 
change, but sometimes their removes were dictated by econ- 
omy. After Margaret Paston had strained her resources, in the 
autumn of 1469, to aid her son Sir John, she angrily sent word 
to him from Norwich that 'it is noised that I have departed 
[shared] so largely with you that I may neither help you, 
myself, nor none of my friends; which is no worship, and 
causeth men to set the less by us; and at this time it com- 
pelleth me to break up household and to sojourn; which I am 
right loath to have to do if I might otherwise have chosen, for 
it caused great clamour in this town that I shall do so'. 

However intimate and affectionate the relations between 
husband and wife, the etiquette of the times demanded a for- 
mality that echoed their positions as master and mistress of a 
household. Following the requirements of 'common form*, 
Margaret Paston began her letters to John, 'Right worshipful 
husband, I recommend me to you, desiring heartily to hear of 
your welfare'. The husband was the lord of the family as the 
King was the lord of the realm and God was the lord of fife. 
Obedience to him was a law of nature; the Scriptures enjoined 

1 Warwick's brother George, Archbishop of York, who had a mansion 
near Charing Cross. 


it and the Church preached it. The cardinal virtue and the 
prime duty of a wife was submissiveness. If a husband became 
angry or dissatisfied, it was to be assumed that the wife had 
failed in her function: 

That man that shall ye wed before God with a ring, 
Love thou him and honour most of earthly thing; 
Meekly give him answer, and not as an attirling [vicious one], 
And so mayest thou slake his mood, and be his dear darling. 

Such is the burden of all the handbooks and verses of instruc- 
tion. The wife must be tuned like an Aeolian harp to respond 
to the slightest breeze of her husband's will or whim. 

At only one moment did she withdraw into a world of her 
own, when she was about to give birth to a child. Whether 
she was the Queen or a great lady like the Duchess of Norfolk 
or a squire's wife, she gathered midwives and her favourite 
waiting-women about her and took to her chamber with doors 
and windows shut and a hot fire burning. Men, even physi- 
cians, were excluded from this rite, which often began several 
days before the baby was born. When Queen Elizabeth was 
expecting her first child the Princess Elizabeth one of the 
royal physicians named Master Dominic assured Edward IV 
that 'the Queen was conceived with a prince'; and so positive 
was Master Dominic that 'by his counsel great provision was 
ordained for christening the said prince'. In order 'to have 
great thank and reward of the King', he stationed himself in 
the Queen's privy chamber so that he might be first with the 
joyful tidings. When he heard the child cry, he knocked or 
called secretly at the chamber door and asked what the Queen 
had. To whom it was answered by one of the ladies, whatso- 
ever the queen's grace hath here within, sure it is that a fool 
standeth there without.* 

If the manuals of manners insist that a wife must find her 
destiny within the character of Patient Griselda, the life of 
the age itself reveals that women, even as they were bringing 
child after child into the world and mourning the early demise 
of several of them were often the sturdy partners of their 
husbands' enterprises. 

In the world of the towns, wives played an active part in 

WIVES 379 

business. When Margaret Paston wanted her menfolk to pur- 
chase cloth for her in the capital, she told them to go to 'Huy's 
wife', whose wares were cheapest and best. Wives of well-to-do 
London merchants had almost a monopoly of embroidering 
and garnishing cloth with jewellery and of the manufacture 
of silken girdles and other finery made of silk; their businesses 
were so flourishing that they were able to demand a premium 
of 5 of their girl-apprentices. Dame Elizabeth Stokton fin- 
ished cloth for export to Italy. Widows not infrequently car- 
ried on their husbands' enterprises and prospered. One lady, 
managing a large import-export trade, earned the admiration 
of London by her shrewd, tough dealing. A fishmonger's heir- 
ess, four times married, went in for tailoring and brewing; 
the widow of a fishmonger owned a metal shop. Margery 
Kempe, married to one of the wealthiest merchants of Lynn, 
confessed that she could not bear any other wife to 'be arrayed 
so well as she*; and so she started a brewing business and then 
bought a horse-mill for the grinding of corn. Among the lower 
orders, wives often added to the family income by becoming 
brewers, bakers, and tavern-keepers; and it is sad to relate that 
they were every bit as celebrated for their short weights and 
false quarts as their masculine rivals. The unfortunate Bishop 
Pecock, condemned for heresy, declared that, If a husband so 
desired it, a wife should use her spare time in contributing to 
the support of the household. 

For better or worse, towns generally recognized the inde- 
pendence of married women in business. At Worcester and 
elsewhere husbands were exempted from financial liability in 
case their wives were sued as a consequence of their dealings. 
The wife was 'sole merchant*. When a married man was to be 
made a citizen of York, he appeared with his wife and both 
of them were admitted as "free burgesses*. As in all ages, some 
husbands found their spouses only too masterful: *Ulveston is 
steward of the Middle Inn [of the Temple] and Isley of the 
Inner Inn, because they would have offices for excuse for 
dwelling this time from their wives.* 

The wife of an ambitious yeoman, joining field to field, or 
of a landed squire like John Paston carried on a year-long 
campaign to keep her people fed and clothed. Gone were the 


mediaeval days when manors had to be almost entirely self- 
sufficient; but the household still brewed its ale and baked its 
bread, and the provident mistress had always to be planning 
for the future. In November enough meat to last over the 
winter must be salted and fish for the Lenten season laid in. 
'Mistress, it were good to remember your stuff of herring this 
fishing time, 9 Richard Calle reminded Margaret Paston one 
autumn. 'You shall do more now with 40s than you shall at 
Christmas with five marks [66s 8d]. 9 In the course of one 
month a manor household of modest size consumed 8 quar- 
ters [4 bushels] of wheat, 18 quarters of barley and malt 
brewed into ale, 3 beeves, 6 pigs, 22 sheep, 2 lambs, 1 capon, 
333 pigeons, 1 heron, 460 white [pickled] herrings, 18 salt 
fish, 6 stockfish. 

Many households no longer wove their own cloth, but wives 
and waiting-women had to make up cloth into clothing not 
only for the family but for servants as well; at least one gown 
or a livery jacket was usually included in yearly wages. Often 
the shops of a nearby town could not supply what was needed. 
'As touching your liveries,' Margaret Paston reported to her 
husband from Norwich, 'there can none be got here of the 
colour that you would have, neither murrey, nor blue, nor 
good russets, below 3s a yard at the lowest price, and even so 
there is not enough of one cloth and colour to serve you. 9 As 
for buying in Suffolk, nothing was to be got there unless 'they 
had had warning at Michaelmas, as I am informed'. 

Fortunately, the institution of the common carrier had 
opened up to manor-dwellers the world of goods that might 
be purchased in London, so that a pregnant wife, though 
buried deep in the country, could write her husband to send 
oranges and dates 'by the next carrier'. Wives of the gentry 
forwarded intricate shopping lists to their men in London. 
Jane Stonor would bid her husband remember the gentian, 
rhubarb, bays, silk, laces, treacle'. Barges taking four or five 
days to make the trip brought Stonor purchases to Henley: 
rushes, spices, a basket of glass, gowns, a mustard quern, fish, 

Margaret Paston sent instructions to buy me three yards of 
purple schamlet, price the yard 4s; a bonnet of deep murrey, 

[29] above, Rural scene (from Discourse on 
Nobility, B. M. Roy 19 C VIII f. 41). 

[30] below, Workmen with tools (French 
B. M. Add. 18750 f. 3). 

[31] Margaret Cheyne 
of Hever, Kent, 1419 
(Victoria and Albert 

[32] Pottery found near Cannon Street, London (Guildhall Mu- 

[35] Sea battle in the Channel. Warwick's ship on the left. 
(B. M. Cott. Jul. E. IV Art 6 f. 18, from the Pageant of the 
Birth, Life and Death of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of War- 

[36] The Battle of Barnet from a contemporary miniature. Ed- 
ward is shown overcoming Warwick, though actually Warwick 
was cut down by anonymous Yorkists while fleeing the field 
(Centrale Biblioteck, Ghent; courtesy Life}. 



WIVES 381 

price 2s 4d; a hose-cloth of yellow kersey of an ell. I trow it 
will cost 2s; a girdle of plunket ribbon, price 6d; 4 laces of 
silk, 2 of one colour and 2 of another, price 8d; 3 dozen points 
with red and yellow, price 6d; 3 pair of pattens [work shoes]. 
... I was wont to pay but 2Jd for a pair, but I pray you let 
them not be left behind though I pay more; they must be low 
pattens; let them be long enough and broad upon the heel*. 

Sir John Paston was much concerned on one occasion about 
three pots of treacle he was dispatching to Norfolk: There is 
one pot that is marked under the bottom 2 times with these 
letters M.P., which pot I have best trust unto; and next him, 
to the "wryghe" pot; and I mistrust most the pot that hath a 
"krotte" above hi the top, lest that he hath been undone. And 
also the other 2 pots be printed with that merchant's mark two 
times on the covering, and that other pot is but once marked 
but with one print; notwithstanding, I had like oath and prom- 
ise for one as well as for all.' 

Robin Plumpton, bastard son of Sir William, found himself 
floundering in mercantile meshes when shopping one April in 
London for his Yorkshire family. To begin with, Sir William 
wanted to pay as little as possible for a cope, probably for the 
chaplain of his chapel, and he expected an embroiderer to 
come all the way from London to work for him: *As for your 
cope, I have cheaped diverse [bargained widely], and under a 
hundred shillings I can buy none that is either of damask or 
satin with flowers of gold. . . . And if ye will have it to be 
made here, it will stand ye to 6 marks [4] or more, with 
the orfrey [gold-work] and making, and that is the least that I 
can drive it to. ... And as for an embroiderer, I can find 
none that will come so far, but any work that ye would have, 
to send hither and they will do it. . . / 

Poor Robin had a much worse experience with *the cloth of 
my ladies'. One Henry Cloughe 'put it to a shearman to di^it, 
and he sold the cloth and ran away*. Henry had him arrested, 
sued him, and secured judgement to recover the cloth; but 
when the rascally shearman 'should deliver it, he delivered 
another piece'. Fortunately the indefatigable Henry discovered 
where he had sold it; and so it is had again and it is put to 
dyeing, and as soon as it is ready I shall send it by the carrier'. 


Tradesmen of those days understood, as well as any of their 
successors, the high style to employ with the gentry. Thomas 
Bradbury, mercer, who would one day he Lord Mayor of 
London, wrote to Lady Stonor, 'Madame, the sarcenet is very 
fine. I think most profitable and most worshipful for you, and 
shall [last] you your life and your child's after you; whereas 
harlotry [cheap, flashy stuff] of 40d or 44d a yard would not 
endure two seasons with you: therefore for a little more cost, 
me thinketh most wisdom to take of the besf . On the other 
hand, when bills remained unpaid some merchants did not 
mince matters. 'Madame', one wrote to Sir William Plumpton's 
wife, *ye know well I have no living but my buying and selling; 
and, Madame, I pray you send me my money. . . .' 

In troubled times, when men sought to 'cut large thongs 
from other men's leather*, wives of lords and gentry like Lady 
Berkeley and Margaret Paston did more than manage house- 
holds. While John Paston was fighting in the courts at West- 
minster, Margaret carried on a harsher warfare at home. She 
undertook to distrain for arrears of rent, carried off cattle or 
ploughs from scowling tenants, and if somebody managed to 
secure a writ for their return, she defied the sheriff himself as 
long as she could. She gathered money, negotiated leases, 
barricaded herself in manor houses threatened by enemies, 
and sent up to her husband in London detailed budgets of 

The bonds of marriage and the burden of affairs that wives 
sometimes had to shoulder find fullest expression in this age in 
these letters of Margaret Paston. Indeed, she is probably more 
intimately revealed than any other woman in the history of 
the world up to her time. 2 There have been preserved almost 
one hundred letters she wrote to her husband and her sons 
and almost fifty they wrote to her. In them lies the story of a 
marriage, loving but wracked by John Paston's ambitions. 

The Paston letters offer a glimpse of young Margaret, after 
her marriage had been arranged, meeting the man who was 

Similarly, we probably know more about Louis XI of France than 
about any man who lived before him, The fifteenth century is the first 
age in which biographical materials began to be preserved on a modern 

WIVES 383 

to be her husband, as reported by her future mother-in-law 
Agnes: 'And as for the first acquaintance between John Paston 
and the said gentlewoman, she made him gentle cheer in gentle 
wise and said he was verily your son. And so I hope there 
shall need no great treaty betwixt them. 9 They married and 
they fell in love, she with a touching surrender of herself, he 
with as much depth as his acquisitive nature permitted. 

When she learned that he was recovering from a bout of 
illness in London, she hastened to let him know that *by my 
troth I had never so heavy a season as I had from the time 
that I woste of your sickness till I woste of your amending, 
and yet mine heart is in no great ease, nor nought shall be till 
I wot that ye be very hale. . . . I would ye were at home . . . 
now rather than a gown though it were of scarlet* . After they 
had been married for more than a decade she concluded one 
of her missives to him, 'I pray you that ye be not strange of 
writing of letters to me betwixt this and that ye come home. 
If I might, I would have every day one from you.* 

This shy, affectionate girl was soon transformed into the 
hard-worked partner of John Paston's ambitious enterprises 
and learned perforce to play a man's role in the world. 

In 1448 Lord Molynes, an adherent of the Duke of Suffolk, 
seized John Paston's manor of Gresham. After repeated at- 
tempts to secure justice had failed, John re-entered the manor 
in October of 1449, when Suffolk's affairs were going badly 
and Molynes had other things to think about 3 That winter 
John had to go up to London, as usual, to defend his interests. 
Therefore Margaret Paston, still a girl in her twenties, installed 
herself hi the mansion at Gresham, a stout manor house, half- 
fortified and surrounded by a wall with a strong gate. 

On January 28, 1450, the manor was attacked by a band of 
Lord Molynes's men, armoured in brigandines or jacks and 
sallets, some waving swords and glaives and batfleaxes, others 
with bows and arrows, and still others bearing the new- 
fashioned hand guns. They were prepared to lay a siege en 
regie if necessary: they had with them large shields for shelter- 
ing archers or hand-gunners, ladders, pans with burning fibre, 
pick-axes, long-handled hooks, and battering rams. John as- 

8 See Epilogue: 'Wars of the Roses.* 


serted that they were a thousand strong, which means there 
were undoubtedly several hundred and they must have looked 
more than a thousand to Margaret, who had only twelve men 
with her. 

As they battered down the gate and swarmed towards the 
house, she resolutely took to her chamber, barred the door. 
Her men dared to put up a fight, several being wounded, but 
soon her room was surrounded by a yelling horde. They were 
not a disciplined war-band, she wrote to her husband, but *a 
company of brothel [evil louts] that reck not what they do, 
and such are most for to be dreaded'. Unable to frighten her 
out, they dug her out mined through the walls and carried 
her bodily off the grounds, while doorposts were smashed and 
the house was rifled to the bare walls and men shouted that 
if her husband or his friend John of Damme had been found 
within, it would have been the end of them. 

Even now Margaret refused to beat a retreat to Paston or 
to take refuge within the walls of Norwich. She moved down 
the road but a short distance, to Sustead, John of Damme's 
place, and there she stubbornly remained. Molynes's men 
forced tenants to pay rents, sold and gave away Paston goods, 
scoured the neighbourhood for Paston supporters, uttered 
continued menaces against Paston and Damme. 'Here dare no 
man say a good word for you in this country, God amend 
it,* Margaret wrote. She was collecting information about the 
brutalities committed at Gresham, trying to protect her men 
and stir up public opinion, and sending reports to John, still 
in London. 

After she had dispatched a message, at her husband's re- 
quest, to demand that her tenants be left in peace, the leader 
of Molynes's band, a man named Barow, politely appeared 
with but two companions at the entrance to Sustead. Mar- 
garet came out but made no move to open the gates: 

1 prayed them that they would hold me excused that I 
brought them not into the place. I said in as much as they 
were not well-willing to the good man of the place [John 
Damme], I would not take it upon me to bring them hi to the 
gentlewoman. They said I did the best, and then we walked 
forth, and I desired an answer of them. They said to me ... 

WIVES 385 

that there should no man be hurt of them that belongeth to 
you. Nevertheless I trust not to their promise, in as much as I 
found them untrue in other things 

'Barow and his fellows spoke to me in the most pleasant 
wise. They said they would do me service and "plesans", if 
it lay in their power to do aught for me, save only in that that 
belongeth to their lord's right. I said to them, as for such serv- 
ice as they had done to you and to me, I desire no more. . . . 

'I conceived well by them [Le., I could tell from the way 
they talked] that they were weary of what they had done, 
Barow swore to me by his troth that he had rather than 40s 
and -10 that his lord had not commanded him to come to 

She reminded Barow that threats had been uttered against 
her because she dared to remain in the neighbourhood, and 
his disclaimers she had little confidence in. Still, she was not 
so worried about herself as about the loss of the manor; and 
that troubled her less than the dangers environing her hus- 
band: 'I hear said that ye and John of Damme are sorely 
threatened always, that though ye be at London ye shall be 
met with there as well as though ye were here; and therefore 
I pray you heartily, beware how ye walk there, and have a 
good fellowship with you when ye shall walk out* 

As Margaret brought numerous children into the world and 
reared them and managed the Paston household, she continued 
throughout the rest of her husband's lif e the struggle to carry 
out bis exacting commands. To add to her burdens, her 
mother-in-law began quarrelling with John. After being as- 
sailed by Agnes's complaints and getting other reports of her 
trouble-making, Margaret wrote unhappily to her husband, 
In good faith I hear much language of the demeaning be- 
tween you and her. I would right fain, and so would many 
more of your friends, that it were otherwise between you than 
it is. I pray God be your good speed in all your matters and 
give you grace to have a good conclusion of them in haste, 
for this is too weary a life to abide for you and all yours*. A 
letter from Chaplain Gloys to his master indicates that Mar- 
garet was not exaggerating her difficulties with Agnes: *At 
the reverence of God, let some interposition go a-twixt you 


and my mistress your mother ere ye go to London, and all that 
ye do shaU speed the better, for she is set on great malice, and 
every man that she speaketh with knoweth her heart, and it 
is like to be a foul noise [over] all the country without it be 
soon ceased.* 

The task of trying to protect her husband's estates, attacked 
in every quarter, so told on Margaret Paston's spirit that in 
1465 a Paston adherent wrote in alarm to John Paston, 'Sir, 
at the reverence of Jesu, labour the means to have peace; for 
by my troth the continuance [of this] trouble shall short the 
days of my mistress ... for certain she is hi great heavi- 
ness. . . .' 

But the Paston affairs grew worse rather than better. Mar- 
garet and her eldest son, Sir John, had to mount guns at Dray-^ 
ton to defend the manor against an attack by some 300 of the 
Duke of Suffolk's men. The faithful steward, Richard Calle, 
was roughly handled in Norwich by the Duke's followers. His 
chief concern, however, was for his mistress. After forthrightly 
telling his master that something must be done immediately to 
halt the inroads of his enemies, he added, 1 beseech you to 
pardon me of my writing, for I have pity to see the tribulation 
that my mistress hath here, and all your friends. . . .' Mar- 
garet herself wrote despairingly a few days later, 'Affrays 
have been made on Richard Calle this week, so that he was 
in great jeopardy in Norwich . . . and great affrays have been 
made upon me and my fellowship. ... If God fortune me 
life and health, I will do as ye advise me to do, for hi good 
faith . . . what with sickness and trouble that I have had, I 
am brought right low and weak. . . .' But Margaret Paston, 
ailing or weary, continued to play a man's part till the day of 
her husband's death; and for years afterwards, she laboured 
anxiously to prevent her eldest son, Sir John, from letting the 
Paston lands slip through his fingers. 

The Lady Isabel, wife to James, Lord Berkeley, proved her- 
self even more indefatigable and strong-willed than Margaret 
Paston, and her bold and zealous defence of family interests 
cost her dear. While the forces of the Earl and Countess of 
Shrewsbury so harried Lord Berkeley and his sons that they 
had to immure themselves in Berkeley Castle, the Lady Isabel 

WIVES 387 

heartened and counselled her husband and doughtily carried 
on her legal battles at Westminster. A letter she wrote to him 
from London bespeaks her spirit and decisive personality: 
'Right worshipful and reverend lord and husband, I commend 
me to you with all my whole heart, desiring always to hear 
of your good welfare, the which God maintain to increase 
ever to your worship. 

'And it please you to hear how I fare; Sir, Squall and Squall; 
Thomas Roger and Jacket have asked surety of peace of me, 
for their intent was to bring me into the Tower. But I trust 
in God tomorrow that I shall go in bail unto the next term, and 
so to go home and then to come again. And, Sir, I trust to God 
and [if] you will not treat with them but keep your own in 
the most manliest wise, ye shall have the land for once and 

'Be well ware of Venables of Alderley, of Thorn Mull and 
your false council. Keep well your place. The Earl of Shrews- 
bury lieth right nigji you and shapeth all the wiles that he can 
to distrusse [untruss] you and yours. For he will not meddle 
with you openly no manner of wise, but it be with great false- 
dom that he can bring about to beguile you, or else that he 
caused that ye have so few people about you [and] then he 
will set on you. For he saith he will never come to the king 
again till he have done you an ill turn. 

'Sir, your matter speedeth and doth right well, save my 
daughter costeth great good. At the reverence of God send 
money or else I must lay my horse to pledge and come home 
on my feet. Keep well all about you till I come home, and 
treat not without me, and then aU things shall be well with 
the grace of Almighty God, who have you in his keeping. . . . 
Your wife, the Lady of Berkeley.' 

Lord James, who knew how much he needed her, hurriedly 
pledged Mass-book, chalice and numerous vestments from his 
chapel and so was able to send her twenty-two marks. Not 
many months later apparently after the Shrewsbury forces, 
with the 'great f alsedom* Lady Berkeley prophesied, had taken 
her husband and sons captive the Countess of Shrewsbury 
and her supporters arranged at Gloucester a commission of 
inquiry designed to bedevil the Berkeleys still further. Isabel, 


following her husband's business as solicitor', bravely faced 
the commission to fight for Lord James's rights. The vengeful 
Countess promptly imprisoned her in Gloucester Castle 'and 
kept her there so that she might not be delivered till she was 

Other ladies of the age managed affairs almost as aggres- 
sively as the redoubtable Countess of Shrewsbury. When the 
castle of Bokenham fell to the Crown, in the turbulent last 
years of Henry VI, John and William Knyvet seized possession 
of it in defiance of royal authority. Armed with a writ, John 
Twyer, J P., and two other officers came to the castle to oust 
the intruders. They were suffered to enter the outer ward but 
found that the inner drawbridge across a deep moat had been 
raised. When Twyer shouted a demand to be admitted, there 
appeared 'at a certain little tower' of the drawbridge John 
Knyvet's wife Alice, backed by some fifty persons in warlike 
array. Alice explained the situation very clearly: 'Master 
Twyer, ye be a Justice of the Peace and I require you to keep 
the peace, for I will not leave the possession of this castle to 
die therefore; and if you begin to break the peace or make 
any war to get the place of me, I shall defend me. For rather 
had I in such wise to die than to be slain when my husband 
cometh home, for he charged me to keep it' 

Alice's manner must have been as emphatic as her words: 
for fear of death and mutilation' John Twyer and his com- 
panions hastily withdrew. Her terror of what her husband 
would do if she failed his orders sounds like a rhetorical flour- 
ish, or perhaps a touch of flattery to soothe Master Twyer's 
masculine pride. 

At least one woman undertook to ply the dangerous trade 
of international agent. The Lady of Calais is nameless, she 
appears for but a moment, but she has earned a place in the 
story. Warwick the Kingmaker, fleeing to France in May, 
1470, brought with Mm King Edward's discontented brother 
George, Duke of Clarence, who was married to Warwick's 
elder daughter Isabel. Under the benevolent auspices of Louis 
XI, Warwick treated with Margaret of Anjou, at Angers, for 
an alliance that would restore her husband Henry VI to the 
English throne at the price of her son's marriage to Warwick's 

WIVES 389 

younger daughter Anne. George of Clarence, now an embar- 
rassing piece of excess baggage, remained in Normandy. He 
was in a dangerous state of mind: fuming and sulky. When he 
had married Isabel, his father-in-law had held out to him the 
glorious prospect of supplanting his brother Edward on the 
throne. Now, after betraying his family and risking his neck, 
he had been cast aside with the sop that providing Henry VTs 
son and Anne Neville had no heirs, Clarence would succeed 
to the Crown. 

At this explosive moment, there landed at Calais a lady who 
announced that she was on her way to serve and comfort the 
poor Duchess of Clarence, who had given birth to a stillborn 
son during the flight across the Channel. Calais, nominally 
faithful to King Edward, was governed by John, Lord Wen- 
lock, Warwick's most trusted lieutenant Wenlock had refused 
to let his chief land at Calais but had sent him a secret mes- 
sage promising that when Warwick had got help from France, 
Wenlock and the garrison would do their part. 

So Wenlock was naturally suspicious of any lady coming 
from King Edward's England who asserted that she wished to 
go to the Duchess of Clarence. The lady then admitted that 
she had a secret mission: the King, eager to make peace with 
Warwick, was prepared to offer all sorts of attractive con- 
cessions. The lady displayed documents to prove her point. 
Wenlock, convinced and delighted, sent her on her way. 

Though England and France were at war and the Nor- 
mandy coast was being harried by the fleet of the Duke of 
Burgundy, she apparently had no difficulty in reaching the 
Duchess of Clarence. Her mission, however, was neither to 
comfort the Duchess nor to offer peace terms to Warwick. 
On behalf of King Edward she begged the Duke of Clarence 
to return to his family allegiance and produced assurances, 
which her stratagem at Calais had kept safe from Wenlock's 
eyes, promising that all would be forgiven if George would 
abandon his father-in-law. The lady was persuasive as well as 
resourceful; Clarence sent back word that as soon as oppor- 
tunity offered he would do as his brother wished. Some nine 
months later, in early April of 1471, he led his army, ostensi- 
bly marching to Warwick's aid, into the Yorkist camp. The 


subsequent history of the lady is unknown; but King Edward 
loved ladies, admired bravery, and had a generous heart: she 
was no doubt well rewarded. 

Though foreigners had little good to say about the men of 
England, finding them choleric and fierce and avaricious, these 
visitors regarded English women as one of the wonders of the 
island: disconcertingly bold and free but the loveliest ladies 

The Bohemians who arrived in 1466 were impressed by 
the kissing they encountered: 'When guests arrive at a lodging 
they are expected to kiss the hostess and her whole household. 
But to take a kiss in England is the equivalent of shaking 
hands elsewhere, for the English do not shake hands.' A gen- 
eration later, Erasmus revelled in the custom: Wherever you 
go,' he wrote a friend, "you are received on all sides with 
kisses; when you take your leave, you are dismissed with 
kisses. If you go back, your salutes are returned to you. When- 
ever a meeting takes place there is kissing in abundance; in 
fact whatever way you turn, you are never without it' This 
fashion, Erasmus pronounced happily, 'cannot be commended 

Nicholas von Popplau was a good deal less gallant but even 
heartier in his appreciation of the bold beauties whom he met 
'One hears much of the Venusberg,' he noted, 'but as far as 
my experience goes and I have wandered far and wide my- 
self and heard many a tale from far-travelled men there is 
no land which can be more justly compared with it than Eng- 
land.' Perhaps misled by all the kissing, he recorded compla- 
cently that English women 'are like devils once their desires 
are roused, and when they take a fancy to someone whom they 
can trust they grow quite blind and wild with love, more than 
the women of any other nation'. Even the Portuguese girls 
could not make htm forget the hot-blooded women of Eng- 
land, who, in addition, were very beautiful, particularly those 
dwelling around Cambridge. Adultery was common and Eng- 
lish inns were full of handsome creatures eager to flaunt their 
charms: 'Scarcely had he entered an inn before the women- 
folk were after him, saying, "Dear master, whatever you de- 

WIVES 391 

sire, that we will gladly do". And if then out of politeness he 
made as if to shake hands with them, they, nothing daunted, 
would offer their lips for a kiss. Should he fail to comply, they 
would go away abashed, but return in half an hour and very 
respectfully offer him food and drink. He suspected that they 
did all this in the hope of robbing him both of bis purse and 
his virginity.' 

There must be something in what Popplau says about the 
girls to be met with in English taverns; half a century before 
the German's visit, that hard-worked clerk to the Signet and 
journey-man-poet, Thomas Hoccleve, sang of 'Venus' female 
lusty children dear', whom he encountered at the Paul's Head, 
That so goodly, so shapely were and fair. And so pleasant of 
port and of manner'. After a day's work of driving pen across 
parchment, Hoccleve loved To talk of mirth and to disport 
and play' with these delicious creatures, while they all drank 
sweet wine and ate *wafers thick'. Naturally, he took care of 
the reckoning: To suffer them pay had been no courtesy.* Hoc- 
cleve, confessing himself a shy and modest chap, was well 
content with no more than an occasional kiss. 

But upriver at Westminster, in the gay court of King Ed- 
ward IV, men were readier to enjoy what the ladies of London 
were willing to offer. Two of Edward's greatest lords, the 
witty and genial Lord Chamberlain Hastings and the young 
Marquess of Dorset, the Queen's son by her first marriage, 
boasted of their amorous exploits in the city and stole each 
other's mistresses. The King outdid them, at least according 
to song and story. When his mother objected to his marrying 
a widow with two children, Edward replied cheerfully so the 
tale runs that though a bachelor, he had some children too. 

The only woman of the age to become a legend was Ed- 
ward's favourite mistress, Jane Shore, wife of a London 
mercer (not goldsmith, as the stories have it). She is cele- 
brated hi ballads, but best account of her comes from the pen 
of a man who saw her when she was old and poor. 

The King would say, 9 wrote Sir Thomas More in his His- 
tone of Kyng Rycharde the Thirde, that he had three con- 
cubines, which in three divers properties diversely excelled. 
One the merriest, another the wiliest, the third the holiest 


harlot in his realm as one whom no man could get out of the 
church lightly to any place but it were to his bed. The merriest 
was this Shore's wife, in whom the King therefore took special 
pleasure. For many he had, but her he loved, whose favour 
to say the truth (for sin it were to belie the devil) she never 
abused to any man's hurt, but to many a man's comfort and 
relief: where the King took displeasure, she would mitigate 
and appease his mind: where men were out of favour, she 
would bring them in his grace. For many that had highly of- 
fended, she obtained pardon. And finally in many weighty 
suits, she stood many men in great stead, either for none, or 
very small rewards, and these rather gay than rich: either for 
that she was content with the deed's self well done, or for that 
she delighted to be sued unto, and to show what she was able 
to do with the King, or for that wanton women and wealthy 
be not always covetous.' 

Bemused by her history, More tries to understand how it 
came about: This woman was born in London, worshipfully 
friended, honestly brought up, and very well married, saving 
somewhat too soon; her husband an honest citizen, young and 
goodly and of good substance. But forasmuch as they were 
coupled ere she were full ripe, she not very fervently loved 
for whom she never longed. Which was haply the thing that 
the more easily made her incline unto the King's appetite 
when he required her. The respect of his royalty, the hope of 
gay apparel, ease, pleasure and other wanton wealth, was able 
soon to pierce a soft tender heart. But when the King had 
abused her, anon her husband (not presuming to touch a 
king's concubine) left her to him altogether.' 

To learn the secret of her charm, More sought out men 
who had known her in her glory. 'Proper she was and fair: 
nothing in her body that you would have changed, but if you 
would have wished her somewhat higher. Thus say they that 
knew her in her youth. Albeit some that now. see her (for yet 
she liveth) deem her never to have been well visaged. Whose 
judgement seemeth me somewhat like, as though men should 
guess the beauty of one long departed, by her scalp taken out 
of the charnel house. Yet delighted not men so much in her 
beauty, as in her pleasant behaviour. For a proper wit had 

WIVES 393 

she, and could both read well and write, merry In company, 
ready and quick of answer, neither mute nor full of babble, 
sometime taunting without displeasure and not without dis- 

More preserves the scene in which Jane Shore passed from 
the light of fame. 'When the King died, the Lord Chamberlain 
[Hastings] took her. Which in the King's days, albeit he was 
sore enamoured upon her, yet he forbore her, either for rever- 
ence, or for a certain friendly faithfulness.' After Richard of 
Gloucester had beheaded her protector, 'he caused the Bishop 
of London to put her to open penance, 4 going before the cross 
in procession upon a Sunday with a taper in her hand. In which 
she went hi countenance and pace demure so womanly, and 
albeit she were out of all array save her kirtle only: yet went 
she so fair and lovely that her great shame won her much 
praise, among those that were more amorous of her body 
than curious of her soul' 

Despite this public exposure of her light living Jane Shore 
could still charm a man, even such a man as the King's So- 
licitor, Thomas Lynom, who had first looked into her eyes to 
accuse her. Careless of all worldly considerations, he report- 
edly made a contract of matrimony with her whSe she lay in 
Ludgate Prison so 'marvellously blinded and abused* was he 
Vith the late wife of William Shore*, as King Richard m, 
hearing the news, hastened to write to his Chancellor, John 
Russell, Bishop of Lincoln. The King begged Russell to seod 
for him, in that ye goodly may exhort and stir him to the con- 
trary*. Yet, though Jane Shore had carried secret messages 
for his enemies, the Woodvilles, and though the match could 
hardly contribute to the dignity of his very new regime, the 
King showed a sympathetic understanding of Lynom's plight: 
*If ye find him utter set for to marry her and it may stand with 
the law of the church, we be content (the time of marriage 
being deferred to our coming next to London) that, upoa 
sufficient surety being found of her good a-bearing 3 , she be 
discharged from Ludgate and 'committed to the rule and guidr 
ing of her father, or any other by your discretion, in the mean 
season'. She did not marry Thomas Lynom, but withdrew into 

*A few weeks before he was crowned Richard m (July 6, 1483). 


obscure poverty to grow old and one day to show young 
Thomas More a face he could not forget. 

Still, though Jane Shore shines as the ballad-heroine of the 
age and though foreigners, in paying tribute to English women, 
did not go beyond their free ways and lovely faces, records 
remain to show that the greatest ladies of the realm, as well 
as wives of gentry and merchants, could play masterful parts 
in a society apparently dominated by men. 

Margaret of Anjou flashes across the English scene like an 
exotic tropical bird, magnificent but fierce, frantically beating 
its plumage hi a wild, hopeless, ineluctable migration and fi- 
nally dashing itself bloodily upon rock. 

She shared the destiny of her family, the valiant and talented 
and curiously flawed House of Anjou. Her father, 'Good King 
Rene', laid claim to a brilliant array of titles King of Naples, 
King of Hungary, King of Jerusalem and could win, or hold, 
none of them; he cheerfully settled for a career of patronizing 
artists, devising fantastic tournaments, and writing poetry. 
Margaret's brother Duke John, regarded everywhere on the 
Continent as the very pattern of martial prowess and lordly 
charm, failed in all his enterprises. 

At the age of sixteen Margaret, dowerless but beautiful and 
learned, became the bride of Henry VI. She brought with her, 
into a tough practical land where the knightly exploits of King 
Arthur were no more than reading matter, the haughty sei- 
gnorial attitude and the archaic chivalry of her House. By the 
time she was twenty-one years old (1451) she was ruling Eng- 
land and beginning her passionate struggle to crush the House 
of York. 

Henry was meekly content to follow her lead and she had 
enough spirit for two. A Milanese agent reported that the 
Queen, "a most handsome woman though somewhat dark', 
kept a rigid state: when Duchesses and even her five-year-old 
son spoke to her, 'they always go on their knees'. The Mayor 
of Coventry discovered, when he headed a procession escort- 
ing her from the city, that he must himself bear his mace of 
office, as he was accustomed to doing only for the King. A 
Paston correspondent noted wryly, *She is a great and strong- 
laboured woman 9 . 

WIVES 395 

She soon became the stuff of legend. Among the tales that 
circulated on the Continent in the S 50's and '60's, a Milanese 
ambassador reported the rumour, current in March of 1461, 
that 'the Queen of England after the King had abdicated in 
favour of his son, gave the King poison*. The envoy adds 
callously, *At least he has known how to die, if he was in- 
capable of doing anything else'. 

Once the Yorkists had captured King Henry at Northamp- 
ton in July of 1460, Margaret's history becomes a fairy-tale 
of disasters by land and sea, the saga of a forlorn but in- 
domitable princess wandering the world to display the 'trage- 
die' of fallen greatness and the violence of her mistakes. 

From Coventry, Margaret and her little son fled westward 
with only a handful of attendants. She was waylaid in Chesh- 
ire, robbed of all her possessions, threatened with death, but 
managed to escape and made her way to Harlech Castle. The 
following year, after the battle of Towton, she and King Henry 
and their little prince were galloping for Scotland with vic- 
torious Yorkists hot on their traces. Insensitive to English feel- 
ings, Margaret bought a refuge by delivering the frontier town 
of Berwick to her hosts. 

She soon left her hapless husband with the Bishop of St 
Andrews and journeyed to France to get aid from Louis XE 
at the price of mortgaging Calais. With her gallant friend Piers 
de Breze she then sailed to reconquer the North. But Mar- 
garet had only to take ship to raise a storm. A tempest 
smashed her fleet; as her own vessel foundered she and Breze 
managed to escape in a small boat and reach Berwick. The 
expedition f ailed. A few months later, the Queen and her son, 
fleeing through a dense forest, fell into the hands of a robber 
band. Fortunately, one of the ruffians was so moved by her 
distress that as the bandits quarrelled over the spoils, he loaded 
Queen and Prince on his horse and bore them to safety. 

In 1463 Margaret once again left Scotland, this time for 
the Low Countries to beg help from the chivalrous Philip the 
Good, Duke of Burgundy. 

Like one of the goddesses who descended periodically from 
Olympus to disrupt the schemes of Greek and Trojan on the 
ringing plains of Troy, the erstwhile Queen of England, reacbr 


ing Sluys at the beginning of August, was determined to blast 
a conference of Burgundian-French-Yorkist diplomats at St. 
Omer which boded ill for the House of Lancaster. For re- 
sources, she had only her unquenchable spirit and her pro- 
tector, Breze: 'ne credence, ne argent, ne meubles, ne joyaux 
pour engaiger*. She and her son and her seven women at- 
tendants depended even for their food on Breze's purse. 

She left her prince and most of her followers at Bruges. 
Disguised or costumed in the garments of a peasant-woman, 
she drove off in a humble cart accompanied by the ever- 
faithful Brez6. A few hours after she reached St. Pol, Philip 
of Burgundy made his entrance. She rushed into the street to 
greet him. He tried to pay homage to her as a queen. She 
tried to throw herself upon him as a helpless princess. It was 
an affecting scene, but the old Duke could not be moved from 
his Yorkist alliance. Next day he uncomfortably took his de- 
parture; only after he was well on the road did he send back 
to Margaret a princely diamond and a goodly sum of money. 
Then he dispatched his sister and her daughters to console the 
afflicted Queen. With that devotee of chivalry, the Burgundian 
chronicler Chastellain, taking it all down, Margaret poured 
out one evening for the princesses of Burgundy the high perils 
and misfortunes she had endured in England like Aeneas re- 
lating the fall of Troy to Dido. 

For seven long years Margaret then dwelt in poverty, sur- 
rounded by a ragged court of dispossessed Lancastrians, on 
an estate in her father's Duchy of Bar, dreaming of revenge 
and awaiting the turn of Fortune's Wheel. The schooling in 
arrogance and hate she gave her prince glows red in a com- 
ment by a Milanese ambassador: *This boy, though only thir- 
teen years of age, already talks of nothing else but of cutting 
off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands 
or was the god of battle.* 

When she got word that Warwick and Edward IV were 
beginning to quarrel, she demanded aid from Louis XI in 
such high terms that the sardonic King, showing her letter to 
a Milanese ambassador, remarked, 'Look how proudly she 
writes'. But in the summer of 1470 Louis had to use all of his 
magnificent battery of persuasion to convince her that she 

WIVES 397 

must ally herself with her bitter foe, Warwick. When the 
Queen and the Kingmaker met at Angers, Margaret assuaged 
her feelings a little by keeping the Earl a good quarter of an 
hour on his knees while he humbly begged her pardon. 

After Warwick had reconquered the realm for Lancaster she 
waited too long-she who so often had not waited long enough 
to bring her prince to England. On the very day that the 
Earl lost all at Barnet she landed at Weymouth. Urged to 
action by overconfident West Country Lancastrians, she rode 
the panicky miles to Tewkesbury in an agony of fear for her 
son. A Yorkist band who discovered her hiding in a house of 
religion brutally broke the news of the defeat and death of the 
heir of Lancaster. 

Margaret was brought to the Tower of London the same 
night that her feeble-witted husband met his death there. A 
few years later Edward IV ransomed her to Louis XI for 
50,000 crowns. Heartbroken, all pride spent, she lingered in 
life on one of her father's estates until August of 1482. At 
her death, all she possessed that anybody wanted was her dogs. 
Louis XI wrote impatiently to demand them: 'She has made 
me her heir, and . . . this is all I shall get I pray you not to 
keep any back, for you would cause me a terribly great dis- 

One of Margaret* s greatest enemies likewise had a master- 
ful temper, and a history crowded with triumphs and sorrows. 
Handsome and high-spirited Cicely Neville 5 became the bride 
of Richard, Duke of York, and proved a bulwark of his ca- 
reer. Neither child-bearingshe bore a dozen chfldrenr- 
nor the dangers of the time prevented her from accompanying 
her husband into France, into Ireland, up and down the shires 
of England. Her eldest son Edward was born at Rouen; 
George, at Dublin; Richard at Fotheringhay. 

In October of 1459, when the Duke and his brother-in-law 
the Earl of Salisbury and Salisbury's son Warwick had as- 
sembled their forces at Ludlow to await an attack by King 
Henry's army, the sudden defection of Warwick's troops 

5 The prolific Neville dan had disputed with the Percles for the coa- 
trol of the North and produced Warwick the Kingmaker and wives for 
half a dozen of the chief peers of the realm. 


forced the Yorkist leaders to flee in the night for their lives. 
Duchess Cicely with her daughter Margaret (later Duchess 
of Burgundy) and her two youngest boys, George (later Duke 
of Clarence) and Richard (later Duke of Gloucester and 
Richard HI) had to be left behind in Ludlow Castle to the 
mercies of the Lancastrians. 

Next morning the King's troops burst into Ludlow, hot for 
loot Cicely did not await them behind the castle walls. When 
the rabble rushed into the market-place, they found the Duch- 
ess standing proudly at the market-cross with her three chil- 
dren: perhaps she had hoped in this way to save the town from 
pillage. But Ludlow and the castle were robbed to the bare 
walls, and Cicely was borne off to Coventry to witness the 
attainder of her lord and his followers in a Parliament packed 
with Lancastrians. King Henry, as kindly as ineffectual, al- 
lowed her 1,000 marks a year for her maintenance and put 
her in the custody of her sister, the Duchess of Buckingham, 
whose husband was one of the chiefs of the court party. 

On one of Buckingham's manors she stayed, *kept full strait 
and many a great rebuke*, until the following summer, when 
Warwick and her son Edward Earl of March invaded Engjand 
from Calais, captured the King at the battle of Northampton 
and set up a Yorkist government. Then Cicely and her chil- 
dren came to London to await the arrival of the Duke of York 
from Ireland. Within a few days of his landing at Chester, he 
sent word asking her to meet him at Hereford, and away she 
went at once, as fast as she could *in a chair [carriage] cov- 
ered with blue velvet' drawn by f our pair coursers*. That the 
world was still Bright wild' made no difference to her. 

Three months after she joined her husband, who came to 
London with clarions blowing before him and the full arms of 
England waving above him, for he meant now to claim the 
throne, the Duke was killed at Wakefield (December 30, 
1460) and his head set to mouldering on Micklegate bar at 
York. A few weeks later, Queen Margaret 9 s host of North- 
erners, smashing Warwick's army at St Albans, were ap- 
proaching the gates of London. Cicely, fearful for the lives of 
young George and Richard, got them on board a ship which 
took them safely across the Channel to the protection of the 

WIVES 399 

Duke of Burgundy; but she herself stuck to her post in the 
apparently doomed city. In less than a fortnight, her son Ed- 
ward of March entered the capital, was proclaimed King Ed- 
ward IV, and marched northward for a showdown with the 

Cicely remained in London as chief representative of the 
House of York to stiffen the trembling loyalties of the citizens. 
Rumours and fears swept the capital. Then, in the first days of 
April, a messenger galloped into the courtyard of Baynard's 
Castle, her great mansion on the Thames, and a few minutes 
later Duchess Cicely was reading out to the throng in her 
chambers her son's autograph letter announcing the destruc- 
tion of the hopes of Lancaster at Towton Field. William Pas- 
ton wrote hastily to his brother John to say that he had seen 
and handled the precious missive. Shortly after, it was reported 
that 'the Duchess of York . . . can rule the King as she 

But Cicely's struggles were not finished. In September of 
1464 King Edward disclosed his secret marriage to Elizabeth 
Woodville, widow and daughter of men who had fought for 
Lancaster. Both commons and lords especially that all-power- 
ful lord, Warwick the Kingmaker bitterly disapproved of this 
marriage to a woman, however beautiful, who was not a prin- 
cess; but apparently nobody was so outraged as Cicely. She 
made a fearful scene, berated Edward as if he were no more 
than a naughty child at her knee, and denounced his marriage 
so violently that for years afterwards rumours were flying 
that she had publicly declared her son a bastard. An Italian 
visitor heard, almost two decades later, that in a towering 
passion she had offered to declare Edward's illegitimacy be- 
fore a commission of inquiry. 

A few years after, however (1470-71), she was secretly 
working on George of Clarence to renounce Warwick and 
return to his family allegiance; and in the winter of 1477-78 
she doubtless pleaded, though in vain, with her son King Edr 
ward for the lif e of that same feckless son George. 

She lived, a religious recluse in Berkhamsted Castle, to see 
her son Richard usurp the throne from her grandsons and die 
at Bosworth Field, her grand-daughter Elizabeth become the 


wife of Henry Tudor, Richard's conqueror, and the children 
of her own daughter Elizabeth, Duchess of Suffolk, conspire 
and fail and perish as the Tudor (Henry VII) eradicated the 
remaining sprigs of the White Rose. 

Henry Tudor's mother, Margaret Beaufort, was no less 
powerful a personality, and her son owed her even more than 
King Edward owed to Cicely. She was likewise a bluestocking 
of the age. Bluestockings leave few traces in times such as 
these, but there was apparently no lack of them. In East An- 
glia several ladies patronized writers, whose talents unfortu- 
nately were small; and doubtless the accidents of time have 
obscured the fame of women in other parts of the country 
who encouraged the arts and were ornaments of learning. 

Margaret Beaufort's portrait tells much about her: the nar- 
row expressive face reveals self-discipline, intelligence, with a 
glint of the wry humour she transmitted to her son lurking in 
the eyes. Richard of Gloucester's usurpation of the throne, in 
June of 1483, suddenly gave her the opportunity to unleash 
her remarkable talents. Her third husband Thomas, Lord 
Stanley, a shrewd and shifty lord, became King Richard's 
Steward of the Household; at Richard's coronation the Lady 
Margaret herself bore Queen Anne's train. Yet, across the 
Narrow Seas in Brittany, her son by her first marriage, Henry 
Tudor, soi-disant Earl of Richmond, watched and waited upon 
events; he represented, through his mother's descent, the re- 
maining hope of the line of Lancaster. 

After his coronation, King Richard with a train of nobles 
including Lord Stanley went a long progress into the West and 
North; but the Lady Margaret remained in London, the nerve- 
centre of the kingdom, her ear tuned for signals of disaffection. 
They were not long in coming. From the sanctuaries, full of 
Woodville adherents, issued a buzzing of conspiracy to rescue 
little Edward V and restore >nm to the throne. Woodville rela- 
tives and friends were secretly gathering followers in Kent and 
Surrey and the western counties. Henry Tudor's mother im- 
mediately began stirring Beaufort retainers and other old 
Lancastrians. Her messengers made their dangerous way to 
Brittany. She put herself in touch with the Woodvilles and was 
soon hearing from a precious pair in Wales. John Morton, 

WIVES 401 

Bishop of Ely, a consummate intriguer who was nominally the 
prisoner of the Duke of Buckingham, Richard's greatest sup- 
porter, had won over his vain, shallow captor to attempt King 
Richard's overthrow. In London the Lady Margaret sat at the 
centre of webs of intrigue, manipulating thread with delicate 

The Woodvilles, however, were working to restore Edward 
V; Buckingham wanted the throne for himself; Lady Margaret 
had still other ideas. She now made herself the Athena of the 
conspiracy. Her clever man of affairs Reynold Bray, secretly 
riding to Buckingham's castle at Brecknock, helped John Mor- 
ton to convince the Duke that he must throw his support to 
Henry Tudor. Then came the nicest stroke of all. Lady Mar- 
garet's agents, filtering through the southern counties, spread 
the word that Edward V and his brother were dead. While the 
Woodville followers were still confused by this news, Lady 
Margaret loosed the astonishing tidings that the mighty Duke 
of Buckingham, outraged at Richard's crimes, would take up 
arms with the conspirators to put Henry Tudor on the throne. 
Under this artful management, what had been three com- 
peting plots became one. At just the right moment Lady Mar- 
garet wove the master strand of the web. A smooth-tongued 
physician of hers succeeded in making his way past King 
Richard's guards to talk with Edward IVs widow, Elizabeth 
WoodviUe, who had taken sanctuary at Westminster. The dow- 
ager Queen was assured that her sons were dead, but that 
she might secure her revenge and still become the mother of 
kings if she agreed to the marriage of her eldest dau^iter 
Elizabeth to Henry Tudor. Her ready acceptance was dis- 
patched to Woodville adherents, and Lady Margaret now sent 
her able chaplain, Richard Fox, into Brittany in order to con- 
cert a landing on the south coast with the movements of 
Buckingham and the Woodvilles. An astute woman, Lady 
Margaret had chosen astute servants; when the moment struck, 
Bray and her physician and Fox and others were ready to 
accomplish her designs. 

Through no fault of Henry Tudor's mother, the plot failed 
miserably; King Richard, a first-rate commander, quickly 
crushed the rebellion, executed Buckingham and restored or- 


den Lady Margaret got off lightly; she was put in the custody 
of her ostensibly loyal husband. Reynold Bray even received 
a pardon. Henry Tudor sailed back to Brittany to wait for two 
more years. 

Lady Margaret, assisted by Bray in England and Morton 
and Fox on the Continent, prepared the way for her son's 
successful invasion of August, 1485, by collecting money and 
promises of aid, and doubtless by helping to create the fog of 
rumours that kept King Richard uneasy and his kingdom 

After Henry VH won the throne, he showed himself a grate- 
ful son, though, as Bacon remarked dryly, he was anything 
but a uxorious husband. He did not mind owing much to his 
mother but hated to owe anything to the Yorkist blood in the 
veins of his beautiful wife Elizabeth. The Athena of the Tudor 
hopes became, in effect, the Queen of the Tudor triumph. 
Screened by a lattice, the Lady Margaret and her son cozily 
watched the coronation of Elizabeth. According to report, she 
held her daughter-in-law in considerable subjection; it is cer- 
tain that she was until her death the dominant lady of the 
reign. Her new position gave her scope to express her piety 
and taste; and her encouragement of the arts, her religious 
bequests, her endowments in support of learning showed her 
a fitting progenitor of the Tudors who came after. She was in 
more ways than one a kingmaker. 

A woman who, though only the widow of a London citizen, 
even more remarkably foreshadows things to come, earned 
her fame in the early years of Edward IVs reign. Agnes 
Forster and her husband Stephen, a wealthy fishmonger and 
one-time mayor of London, chose to express their charity, as 
many were doing in this age, by working for the worldly, 
rather than the heavenly, weal of their fellow-townsmen. They 
became interested in prison conditions. Ludgate Prison had 
been specially built for citizens held for debt or petty crimes, 
in order to spare them the miseries of lying in Newgate with 
the worst sort of criminals. Moved by the overcrowding of 
the prison, Agnes and her husband began constructing an 
addition to Ludgate, a massive 'quadrant strongly builded of 

WIVES 403 

stone', which contained a sizeable exercise ground and 'fair 
leads to walk upon, well embattled, all for fresh air and ease 
of prisoners'. They endowed the building as well, 

So that for lodging and water prisoners here nought pay, 
As their keepers shall answer at dreadful doom's day 

so end the verses, graven in copper, which were affixed to 
the 'quadrant*. 

Stephen Forster died before the work was completed, but 
Dame Agnes pursued her humanitarian cause with increased 
zeal. She not only watched over the completion of the Forster 
addition, but spent her days in Newgate and Ludgate and the 
sheriffs' gaols studying the prison life of London. Many men 
and women were leaving sums in their wills to provide food 
and clothing for prisoners, but Agnes Forster was a proto- 
Elizabeth Fry, the first woman on record to concern herself 
with the penal system rather than with the plight of individuals. 
In December of 1463, Dame Agnes turned over to the city 
the Ludgate Addition, and at the same time she laid before 
the Mayor and aldermen a set of proposals for the reform of 
all London prisons. They knew a good thing when they saw 
it: 'At the request and prayer of the well disposed, blessed and 
devout Dame Agnes Forster, for the ease and relief of all 
poor prisoners being in the gaol and "Counters'* of the city 8 , 
they promptly enacted her reforms. These articles f asunder 
three main heads: preventing gaolers from mulcting prisoners 
by overcharging for bed and board, three shillings a week be- 
ing the maximum allowed; checking the brutality of the keep- 
ers and regulating the practice of putting prisoners in irons; 
and, perhaps most important of all, making provision to see 
that no man languished in gaol without due cause. Every year 
at the feast of St. Matthew the Apostle (September 21) two 
curates and two 'commoners' of the city were given the power 
to enter any gaol at any time in order to investigate the com- 
plaints of the prisoners, to enforce the observance of the new 
articles, to survey the dispensing of alms and to inquire mto 
the causes for which every inmate was imprisoned. 

Two years later, Dame Agnes herself became * kmdof 
gaoler; a French lord, the Sieur de GraviUe, who had been 


captured fighting for the Lancastrians in the North, was en- 
trusted to her care until he was able to ransom himself. Since 
his hard-hearted son, a high officer of Louis XFs, made no 
move to help his father, Graville apparently remained under 
Dame Agnes' roof for twelve years. Doubtless the pangs of 
exile were lightened for the poor old man by the care Dame 
Agnes bestowed upon httn T Edward may have chosen her to 
keep Graville for him because of her fame as a prison re- 
former, but it turns out that the man to whom Graville owed 
his ransom was named John Forster, probably the warrior 
son of a woman who was in her way also a warrior. Dame 
Agnes owned books, too, and knew how to take care of them. 
When she kindly lent out some law volumes, she had the bor- 
rower sign a deed that required their return 'when her lady- 
ship will command them*. 

In a very different key a Norfolk woman, Margery Kempe, 
sounds the same note of changing times. She began life like 
many another burgher's daughter of Bishop's Lynn. She mar- 
ried, had children, managed a household, and for a tune set 
up in business for herself as a brewer. But she began to ex- 
perience visions and hear voices. She put on a hair shirt and 
spent long hours praying in church. Finally, separating from 
her husband, she took to the road, convulsed, and spiritually 
arrogant and abysmally humble by turns. She made her way 
to the Holy Land. On her return, she spent months at Rome, 
dependent on charity for food and shelter; after that, she 
wandered penniless through Europe. 

Later she sailed to the great shrine of St James of Com- 
postella in Spain; then, driven by divine compulsion, she 
plodded the roads of Germany. She was at times a dreadful 
trial to her fellow pilgrims and wayfarers, for she broke into 
clamorous fits of weeping which became the special mark of 
her holy possession. Once she had fourteen crying spells in 
one day. Still, though pilgrims avoided her company or de- 
serted her on the road, she always met with someone to help 
her, feed her, guide her to where she wanted to go. 

The upper clergy found her a nuisance. Often summoned 
before bishops on suspicion of heresy, she remained un- 

WIVES 405 

abashed. Here is her own report 6 on how she appeared in the 
palace of the Bishop of Worcester: When she came into the 
hall, she saw many of the Bishop's men in clothes freakishly 
cut in the fashion of the day. She, lifting up her hands, blessed 
herself. And then they said to her: <f What devil aileth thee?" 
She said again: "Whose men be ye?" They answered back: 
"The Bishop's men." And then she said: "Nay, forsooth, ye 
are more like the Devil's men." Then they were angry and 
chid her, and spoke angrily to her.' The Bishop himself, 
though, gave her his blessing and put money in her purse. 

But she had a stormier experience when she was brought 
before the Archbishop of York. He rounded on her at once, 
called her heretic and sent for fetters. When she burst into 
tears, the prelate asked harshly, 'Why weepest thou, woman?* 
She replied: 'Sir, ye shall wish some day that ye had wept as 
sore as I.' After qnfozmg her sharply on her faith and finding 
nothing wrong, the Archbishop told her: 1 am evil informed 
of thee. I hear it said that thou art a right wicked woman.* 
Though she 'trembled and shook', she retorted, *I also hear it 
said that ye are a wicked man. And if ye be as wicked as men 
say, ye shall never come to Heaven, unless ye amend whilst 
ye be here.' In the end, the exasperated prelate ordered her to 
swear that she would leave his diocese instantly. When she re- 
fused, he called for a man to take her away. The man wanted 
a noble (6s 8d) for the unpleasant task, but the Archbishop 
would give no more than five shillings to *lead her rapidly out 
of this country'. 

In her last years she returned to Bishop's Lynn. She received 
a cold welcome home, for *a reckless man, little caring for his 
own shame, with will and of set purpose, cast a bowlful of 
water on her head as she came along the street'. Some of her 
compatriots treated her badly, for her mysticism was dread- 
fully noisy; but others were moved by her holiness, and fa- 
mous doctors came to Lynn to talk with her. 

Before she died, she felt compelled to record her story; 
after difficulties she found a priest willing to take down her 
dictation (in the 1430*s). Caxton's successor, Wynkyn de 

8 In dictating her autobiography, she spoke of herself in the third 


Worde, published a small pamphlet of extracts from the work, 
but fortunately in 1934 the complete manuscript came to light 

Margery Kempe reports her life and her personality no less 
than the special ardours of her faith. She made no bones, for 
example, about how repellent to others her crying spells were: 
*She never knew the time or the hour when they would come, 
and as soon as she found that she would cry, she would sup- 
press it as much as possible so as not to annoy people. For 
some said it was a wicked spirit vexed her: some said it was 
a sickness: some said she had drunk too much wine: some 
would she had been at sea in a bottomless boat: and thus each 
man had his own thoughts.' 

Her narrative gives homely details of her life on the roads 
of Europe as she begged from city to city, tagging along with 
a company of poor folk: When they were without the towns, 
her fellowship took off their clothes, and sitting naked, picked 
themselves. Need compelled her to await for them and to pro- 
long her journey. She was afraid to put off her clothes as her 
fellows did, and therefore, through being with them, had part 
of their vermin, and was bitten and stung very evilly both day 
and night. She kept on with her fellowship with great anguish 
and discomfort and much delay, until they came to Aachen.' 

While waiting at Bristol for a ship to take her to St James, 
she was 'houseled every Sunday with plenteous tears and bois- 
terous sobbings, with loud cryings and shrill shriekings, and 
therefore many men and women wondered upon her, scorned 
her and despised her. ... On Corpus Christi Day . . . as the 
priests bore the sacrament about the town with solemn pro- 
cession . . . she cried, "I die! I die!" and roared so wonder- 
fully that the people wondered upon her. . . .* When finally 
she boarded ship with her fellow-pilgrims, 'it was told her if 
they had any tempest they would cast her in the sea, for they 
said ... the ship was the worse for she was therein*. 

Once when she reached Calais, footsore and 'overcome with 
labour*, on her way back to England, there was a good woman 
had her home to her house, the which washed her full cleanly 
and did her on a new smock and comforted her right much. 
. . . While she was there abiding shipping three or four days, 
she met there with divers persons which had known her be- 

WIVES 407 

fore. . . .' She hoped to cross the Channel with them but they 
refused to let her know 'what ship they purposed to sail in. 
She speried [queried] and spied as diligently as she could' and 
thus learned their intentions; but *when she had borne her 
things into the ship where they were . . . they purveyed them 
another ship ready to sail*. Abandoning her belongings, she 
hastily joined them, 'and so they sailed all together to Dover. 
Perceiving through their cheer and countenance that they had 
little affection to her person, [she] prayed to Our Lord that he 
would grant her grace to hold her head up and preserve her 
from voiding of unclean matter in their presence, so that she 
should cause them none abomination. Her desire was fulfilled 
so that, others in the ship voiding and casting full boisterously 
and uncleanly, she . . . might help them and do what she 

But when they reached Dover, 'each one of that fellowship 
got him fellowship to go with . . . save she only, for she might 
get no fellow to her ease. Therefore she took her way toward 
Canterbury by herself alone, sorry and heavy in manner that 
she had no fellowship and that she knew not the way*. But 
Providence was never far from Margery. Early in the morning 
she 'came to a poor man's house, knocking at the door. The 
good poor man, huddling on his clothes, unfastened and un- 
buttoned, came to the door', and shortly after, he was leading 
her to Canterbury on his horse. 

Margery Kempe's story is the first true autobiography com- 
posed in England; and it is written in English. Thus it signals 
the particular quality of fifteenth-century life. Margery knew 
that she was a Child of God and with flamboyant humility she 
calls herself throughout her narrative the creature'; but she 
also knew that she was a remarkable person who had ex- 
perienced more of lif e than most folk. 


IN the tough, pushing world of the fifteenth century, children 
were not coddled nor did their upbringing occupy the centre 
of family life. Parental love, parental hopes were forced into 
harsh channels of expression which strained and often soured 
the feelings themselves. Children of the upper classes were 
sent while very young into strange households to make their 
way, and married early. Parents worked for the worldly ad- 
vancement of their sons and daughters, but most of them ap- 
parently did not consider that enjoying children constituted a 
part of the pleasure of living. 

Mothers like Margaret Paston sometimes tried to shield 
their sons from a father's rigour. Thomas and Elizabeth Brews, 
of Norfolk, were warm, affectionate parents. A letter from 
young Richard Cely to his brother George at Calais sounds 
an ageless maternal theme: *Our mother longs sore for you. 
William Cely wrote that we be like to have war with France 
and that makes her afraid.' 

But instances of such parental feeling do not often occur. 
Stephen Scrope, who complained so bitterly about his own 
upbringing, wrote casually, Tor very need I was fain to sell a 
little daughter I have 9 ; he regretted only that he had to make 
the bargain for much less than I should have done by possi- 
bility*. Whatever lay in the hearts of parents, in their minds 
they assumed that children must become pawns in the family 
game of advancement, whose wishes and whose expressions 
of individuality were irrelevant, not to say intolerable. Conse- 
quently, the first and last duty of a child was humble obe- 
dience. Chaucer's squire serves as a model: 


Curteis he was, lowely and servysable 
And carf bif orn his fader at the table. 

The handbooks of the period multiply then: injunctions on 
the subject: 

Reverence thy parents dear, so duty dofh thee bind: 
Such children as virtue delight be gentle, meek, and kind. 

And, child, worship thy father and mother, 

And look that thou grieve neither one nor the other, 

But ever among thou shalt kneel down, 
And ask their blessing and their benison. 

Disobedience was immoral, ungodly, inconvenient, and it 
met with swift punishment. Children were liberally beaten as 
part of their training; a child was a tabula rasa and it was the 
duty of parents to write emphatically thereupon the lessons of 

But as wax receiveth print or figure 
So children be disposed of nature. 

Children learned very early and were expected to observe 
throughout their lives the formal terms in which obedience 
was expressed. William Stonor writes, 'My Right reverend 
and Worshipful Father, I recommend me unto your good fa- 
therhood in the most humble wise that I can or may, meekly 
beseeching your good fatherhood of your daily blessing*. 
Young John Paston addresses his mother, 'Right Reverend 
and Worshipful mother, I recommend me to you as humbly 
as I can think, desiring most heartily to hear of your welfare 
and heart's ease, which I pray God send you as hastily as my 
heart can think*. When Sir John Paston, in his middle thirties, 
so far forgot himself as to begin a missive to his mother with 
an abrupt Tlease it you to weet that I have received your 
letter'; Margaret Paston tartly brought him to heel: 1 think ye 
set but little by my blessing, and if ye did, ye would have de- 
sired it in your writing to me. God make you a good man.* 

Children were schooled according to the same principles 
by which they were reared. The wax was pliable but stub- 


born; learning and a little grace had to be beaten into the 

He hateth the child that spareth the rod; 

And the wise man saith in his book 

Of proverbs and wisdoms, who will look, 

1 As a sharp spur maketh an horse to run 

Under a man that should war win, 

Right so a yard may make a child 

To learn well his lesson and to be mild*. 

Agnes Paston had no doubt about proper teaching meth- 
ods: Tray Greenfield [a master in London] to send me faith- 
fully word by writing how Clement Paston hath done his 
devoir in learning. And if he hath not done well, nor will not 
amend, pray him that he will truly belash him till he will 
amend. So did the last master, and the best that ever he had, 
at Cambridge.* This method of instruction was not new and 
it would last for a long time to come. 

What was new was the spread of schooling itself. The 
mediaeval day was long past when only clerks could read 
and write and even a noble was content to make his mark. 
By 1489 reading and writing had become so common that a 
distinction had to be drawn in law between the literate lay- 
man and the clerk. The middle classes, urban and gentry, 
were making their energies felt throughout all the fabric of 
the realm. 

Children were offered a diversity of educational opportuni- 
ties: municipal schools, gild schools, schools established in 
hospitals by the bequests of wealthy men, schools started by 
scriveners or Bachelors of Arts, schools attached to chantries 
and to colleges of priests. Chaplains and parsons often tu- 
tored children of the neighbourhood as well as the households 
of their patrons. Abbeys and nunneries here and there still 
carried on their mediaeval tradition of educating the young. 
Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Thomas 
Rotherhara, Archbishop of York, founded schools in their 
native towns. Aliens set up academies to teach languages. 
Men like Agnes Paston's Master Greenfield tutored boys 


looking to enter one of the Inns of Chancery or Inns of 

Though individual churchmen did much for education, the 
Church as a whole did not take kindly to the establishment of 
new schools. The city of Coventry had to ask the Prior to 
refrain from bullying parents into sending their children to 
his school instead of the municipal school. A prerogative, a 
source of profit was threatened. In London, the Church 
blocked for a time the founding of additional schools, but 
schools came into being anyway; by 1450 there were probably 
at least a dozen and may have been two or three times that 

The majority of English men and women could not read 
and write; but the majority of English men and women were 
peasants on the land. The gentry and rising yeomen, all "The 
Clothing' of the towns and most of the middling townsmen 
could read and write English, women as well as men. Most 
of the sons of merchants and gentry had some training in 
Latin because accounts were kept in that language and it was 
essential for the professions or the management of land. Of 
one hundred and sixteen Londoners who appeared as wit- 
nesses in a consistory court between 1457 and 1476, forty 
per cent were registered as literate, and 'literate* meant able 
to read Latin. A commercial education was offered in private 
schools and tutoring establishments. Bishop Stfllington made 
provision in his school for three masters to teach grammar, 
music, and writing, 'and such things as belong to the scrive- 
ner's art*. 

The surviving memorials of the period letters, household 
accounts, wills, deeds, charters all reveal a concern for edu- 
cation, an assumption that schooling is essential for success 
in life. A baker requests his son to be reared *in all learning'; 
an alderman hopes his will be inclined to cunning learning 
and erudition*; a vintner dwells on the necessity of schooling 
until the age of sixteen. Even the wondrous pageants that 
ornamented the marriage of Margaret of York to Charles, 
Duke of Burgundy, did not make John Paston forget about 
a favourite page of his: 'And mother,' he wrote from Bruges, 
'I beseech you that you will be good mistress to my little man 


and to see that he go to school. Pray Sir John Still [a Paston 
Chaplain] to be good master to little Jack and learn him well.' 

Oxford and Cambridge still slumbered in their mediaeval 
curricula of Latin rhetoric and scholastic philosophy. The 
tradition of student unruliness continued: Sir William Stonor's 
servants were so badly beaten at Oxford that they refused 
to do their master's errands in the town; the German, Pop- 
plau, found the loveliest, and lightest, ladies near Cambridge, 
and visiting bishops found the giddiest nuns in convents 
around Oxford. Yet Oxford and Cambridge were changing, 
despite themselves. Poor boys, supported by enlightened mem- 
bers of the gentry like Sir John Howard and Sir William 
Stonor, now came to the universities with no intention of 
entering Holy Orders; they aimed at an ever-increasing choice 
of lay careers, many of them going on to the Inns of Court. 
Sons of wealthy merchants and gentry were also coming in 
considerable numbers, and even an occasional lord's son, to 
prepare themselves for public and private responsibilities. This 
new generation squeezed from the churchly learning of the 
past, secular careers and a love of books. 

The spectacular rise of the Paston fortunes was owing to 
an investment in education by Clement Paston at the begin- 
ning of the century. Almost all we know of Clement comes 
from an account put about by Paston enemies, the effect of 
which on the twentieth-century reader is the reverse of what 
was originally intended: 'First, there was one Clement Paston 
dwelling in Paston, and he was a good plain husbandman, 
and lived upon his land that he had in Paston, and kept thereon 
a plough all times in the year. The said Clement yede [went] 
at one plough both winter and summer, and he rode to imill 
on the bare horse-back with his corn under him, and brought 
home meal again under him, and also drove his cart with 
divers corns to Wynterton to sell, as a good husbandman 
ought to do. Also, he had in Paston a five score or a six score 
acres of land at the most, and much thereof bond land [i.e., 
held by servile tenure] to Gemyngham HaD, with a little 
poor water-mill running by a little river there. Other livelode 
[property] nor manors had he none there, nor in none other 
place. . . . 


'Also, the said Clement had a son William, which that he 
set to school, and he borrowed money to find him to school; 
and after that, he yede to [one of the Inns of] court and 
learned the law. . . .' 

Young William was soon appointed Steward to the Bishop 
of Norwich; important men turned to him for advice, made 
him a trustee of their properties. He became Serjeant-at-law 
in 1421 and eight years later, a Justice of the Court of Com- 
mon Pleas at a yearly salary of 1 10 marks. Thus the son of an 
industrious yeoman rose to be one of the hundred or so most 
influential men in England. He made a good marriage to 
Agnes Berry, heiress of a Hertfordshire knight, who brought 
him several properties, and he himself joined estate to estate 
until at his death his heir John was one of the important land 
owners of Norfolk. The other sons of Justice Paston, like 
John, were educated at Cambridge and probably, like him, 
at one of the Tnns of Court 

John Paston's two eldest sons Sir John and John undoubt- 
edly had a university education and probably were likewise 
trained in the law. A younger son Walter went to Oxford; he 
made the journey under the eye of the family chaplain, Sir 
James Gloys, who was given strict orders by Margaret Paston 
to make sure that Walter was put *where he should be* and 
'set in good and sad rule*. Margaret hoped that her son would 
'do well, learn well, and be of good rule and disposition*, but 
she did not want him to be too hasty of taking of Orders that 
should bind him, till that he be of twenty-four years of age 
or more, though he be counselled the contrary, for often haste 
rueth. ... I will love him better to be a good secular man 
than to be a lewd priest* . He stayed five years at Oxford, 
spending about 12 or ,13 a year. In the spring of 1479 he 
was hoping to take his degree at the same time as Lionel 
Woodville, brother to the Queen, for this young man could 
be expected to contribute liberally to a feast given by the 
Bachelors. Lionel did not take his degree at that time, bat 
Walter became a Bachelor of Arts in June and reported that 
he was able to spread a very satisfactory dinner: 'and if ye 
will know what day I was made Bachelor, I was made on 
Friday the seventh, and I made my feast on the Monday after. 


I was promised venison against my feast of my Lady Har- 
court, and of another man too, but I was deceived of both; 
but my guests held them pleased with such meat as they had, 
blessed be God.' Venison was apparently the traditional dish 
for such pleasant ceremonies; a correspondent of Sir William 
Plumpton wrote, 'Please your good mastership to wit, there 
is a clerk at York, the which purposes to say his first mass 
the Sunday next after the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady 
the Virgin; and if ye would vouchsafe that he might have a 
morsel of venison against the said Sunday*, the writer would 
be grateful. 

John Paston's youngest son William was sent to Henry VTs 
famous foundation, Our Lady of Eton, the only Paston of 
this time, so far as is known, who attended that school. He 
was lodged in a dame's house in town, under the tuition of a 
Fellow of the college. The impecunious Sir John, now head 
of the family, expected his mother to support William at Eton, 
an idea which was not to her liking; and William's fees and 
board bills were often months in arrears. On one occasion 
he informed his second brother John that he had met a 
young gentlewoman at a wedding; she appeared to be well 
endowed with worldly goods and he hoped that his brother 
would make some marital inquiries; his final comment does 
not suggest that he was deeply enamoured, however: 'and as 
for her beauty, judge you that when ye see her, if so be that 
ye take the labour, and specially behold her hands, for and 
if it be as it is told me, she is disposed to be thick.* He reported 
complacently of his educational progress, 'And as for my 
coming from Eton, I lack nothing but versifying, which I trust 
to have with a little continuance'. He then cites an example 
of his Latin, not very promising, and adds proudly, 'and 
these two verses aforesaid be of mine own making*. On an- 
other occasion he begged young John 'to send me a hose- 
cloth, one for the holidays of some colour, and another for 
the working days, how coarse so ever it be, it maketh no 
matter; and a stomacher, and two shirts, and a pair of slip- 
pers. And if it like you that I may come by water and sport 
me with you at London a day or two this term time, then ye 
may let all this be till the time that I come. . . .' 


Sir John Howard, too, owed much to education. He was 
probably, like John Paston, a Cambridge man who studied 
law at one of the Tnns of Court. Though he had the advan- 
tage of high birth his mother was a Mowbray if he had not 
made himself a man of learning, it is doubtful that he could 
have risen to become one of King Edward's chief diplomats 
and a magnate whose household accounts could contain the 
casual item, Tor a grey nag to send to the French king, 36s 
8d'. Periodically he journeyed to London to fetch his two 
young sons, Thomas and Nicholas, from school, probably at 
St. Bartholomew's Hospital. 

Education was frankly equated with worldly success, but 
there is plenty of evidence to show that this utilitarian spirit 
by no means choked the love of learning and the enjoyment 
of books. Scriveners were kept busy copying manuscripts for 
the lay reading public. Sir John and his younger brother John 
strew their letters with Latin and French tags; their friends 
joke with them about Ovid's Art of Love and there is talk of 
other books too. Sir John fancied himself as a collector. The 
moment he heard that the family chaplain, Sir James Gloys, 
had died, he immediately asked his mother to buy Gloys's 
books if they were available and pack them up to London. 
Not that he had any money to spare If it like you that I may 
have them, I am not able to buy them; but somewhat would 
I give, and [as for] the remnant, with a good devout heart, 
by my troth, I will pray for his soul. Wherefore if it like you 
by the next messenger or carrier to send them in a day, I shall 
have them dressed here; and if any of them be claimed here- 
after, in faith I will restore it' The books were still very much 
on his mind a few days later: 1 beseech you that I may have 
them hither by the next messenger, and if I be gone, yet 
that they be delivered to mine hostess at The George, at Paul's 
Wharf, which will keep them safe, and that it like you to 
write to me what my payment shall be for them.* On the same 
day he impatiently addressed his brother John: 1 pray you 
remember so that I may have the books . . . which my 
mother said she would send me by the next carrier.* A few 
weeks later Sir John was still fretting: 1 hear no word of my 
books; I marvel. No more.* 


It finally turned out that the best book in Sir James's col- 
lection had been claimed, though Margaret Paston promised 
to try to get it for him; the rest were valued at 20s 6d. But by 
this time Sir John, at Calais, was plagued by debts and had 
his thoughts on preparations for the coming invasion of 
France (1475) so 'that as for the books that were Sir James's, 
I think best that they be still with you, till that I speak with 
you myself. My mind is now not most upon books*. 

But clearly his mind often was upon books. The volumes 
owned by him and his brother John present a fair cross-sec- 
tion of the reading tastes of the gentry. He possessed several 
romances, poems by Chaucer and Lydgate and Hoccleve, a 
few religious and devotional books, a number of chronicles, 
works on war and heraldry, the De Senectute and the De 
Amicitia of Cicero and Ovid's De Arte AmandL That tough 
old fighter, Sir John Fastolfe, had a collection almost as large. 
Sir John Howard was another ardent book collector. When 
in 1481 Sir John, now Lord Howard, commanded a naval 
expedition against the Scots which left a trail of burnt ship- 
ping hi the Firth of Forth, he took with him not only steel 
harness and serpentines but French romances and French 
treatises on dice and chess and Les Dits des Sages. 

William Worcester, annalist and humourist, who spent long 
years in the hard service of Sir John Fastolfe, once char- 
acterized himself to John Paston, in the third person: 'Item, 
Sir, I may say to you that William hath gone to school, to a 
Lombard called Karoll Giles to learn and to be read in poetry 
or else in French; for he hath been with the same Karoll ev- 
ery day two times or three, and hath bought divers books of 
him, for the which, as I suppose, he hath put himself in dan- 
ger [Le., debt] to the same Karoll. ... He would be as glad 
of a good book of French or of poetry as my Master Fastolfe 
would be to purchase a fair manor.' When William Caxton 
set up in business at the sign of the Red Pale close by 
Westminster Abbey, in 1476, England was ready for him and 
his marvellous machine. 

The lord's girl and the baker's boy and the squire's son 
and Margaret Paston's daughters and the girls of London 


mercers and tailors and fishmongers were not very long reared 
or schooled in the family household. They were all appren- 
ticed, whether as apprentices proper or as pages or attendants 
in somebody else's household. It was the universal belief in 
England, except among the poor, that the best possible up- 
bringing for a child was to thrust him out of the family as 
soon as possible to learn the ways of the world and continue 
his education under other auspices. A child who remained 
at home too long became an eyesore, an affront to the fitness 
of things. 

This system amazed, even shocked, the Venetian diplomat, 
The want of affection in the English is strongly manifested 
toward their children; for after keeping them at home till they 
arrive at the age of seven or nine years at the utmost, they put 
them out, both males and females, to hard service in the 
houses of other people, binding them generally for another 
seven or nine years. All these are called apprentices, and 
during that time they perform all the most menial ofSces. 
Few are born who are exempted from this fate, for everyone, 
however rich he may be, sends away his children into the 
houses of others, while he in return receives those of strangers 
into his own. 

'When I inquired their reason for this severity, they an- 
swered that they did it in order that their children might learn 
better manners. But I, for my part, believe that they do it 
because they like to enjoy all their comforts themselves, and 
that they are better served by strangers than they would be 
by their own children. Besides which, the English, being great 
epicures and very avaricious by nature, indulge in the most 
delicate fare themselves and give their household the coarsest 
bread and beer and cold meat baked on Sunday for the week, 
which, however, they allow them in great abundance. 
Whereas if they had their own children at home, they wouM 
be obliged to give them the same food they made use of for 

'If the English sent their children away from home to learn 
virtue and good manners and took them back again when their 
apprenticeship was over, they might, perhaps, be excused; 
but they never return, for the girls are settled by their patrons, 


and the boys make the best marriages they can, and, assisted 
by their patrons, not by their fathers, they also open a house 
and strive diligently by this means to make some fortune for 

Though the Venetian scrambles together the urban system 
of apprenticeship and the general practice of sending children 
whether the sons and daughters of lords or prosperous 
yeomen into other people's households and though the mo- 
tives he darkly suspects are somewhat more amusing than 
convincing, the letters of the time bear out in detail the pic- 
ture that he paints. Since the Venetian was domiciled in Lon- 
don and knew that society best, he devotes the rest of his ac- 
count to what he saw in the capital: The apprentices for the 
most part make good fortunes, some by one means and some 
by another; but, above all, those who happen to be in the good 
graces of the mistress of the house in which they are living at 
the time of the death of the master, because by the ancient 
custom of the country, every inheritance is divided into three 
parts: for the church and funeral expenses, for the wife, and 
for the children [this is, in fact, the 'Custom of London*]. 
But the lady takes care to secure a good portion for herself 
in secret first, and then she, being in possession of what she 
has robbed, of her own third, and that of her children besides, 
usually bestows herself in marriage upon the one of those 
apprentices living in the house who is most pleasing to her, 
and who was probably not displeasing to her in the lifetime 
of her husband; and in his power she places all her own for- 
tune, as well as that of her children, who are sent away as 
apprentices into other houses. . . . No Englishmen can com- 
plain of this corrupt practice, it being universal throughout 
the kingdom.* 

The Venetian was not far wrong in lumping lords* sons 
placed in great households with yeomans* or shoemakers' 
sons bound in indentures to a weaver. The motives, the play 
of human feelings were much the same, however different 
the training and the prospects of the children. An apprentice 
had the skills of the craft and some manners beaten into him 
and competed with other apprentices for the favour of his 
master, or his mistress. A squire's daughter in the household 


of a knight was expected to learn the intricacies of good be- 
haviour and needlework, to have enough of schooling to 
read and write and keep accounts so that she would be useful 
to her husband, and to secure the patronage of her mistress. 
In the household of the King or of a magnate of the realm, 
lords' sons were instructed in polite learning, manly exercises 
and the art of pleasing superiors. The social gamut was wide 
but not the range of purpose behind the system. 

Pages in great households were called ^henchmen*. Richard 
of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV, was one of several 
henchmen in the household of Warwick t